Tips on How to Motivate Kids for Outdoor Adventure

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Before heading out on an adventure with your kids it's important to get them motivated.

We've found that this often means the difference between a fun and successful outing, or a miserable battle dragging them out against their will. You might notice that some of these tips simply boil down to treating your child a bit like a regular member of your party.

North Cascades Black Peak

On Black Peak in the North Cascades.

Get Them Excited

This starts days, weeks or even months ahead of time depending on the trip. Anticipation can be half the fun, so make sure not to leave kids out of this stage. Talk to them about previous outdoor experiences they enjoyed, and give them plenty of time to mentally prepare for the upcoming adventure. The surest way to an unpleasant start is to spring a trip on them at the last minute.

Kids Motivated for Outdoors

On a dream trip in Yosemite.

Plan Together

Make them part of the team and include them in the planning process. Discuss where you're going. I often propose two or three ideas and let my son choose, which gets him more invested in the trip. Get them looking at maps & guidebooks and before long they may be proposing their own ideas. Talk about any goals for the trip. Is it a destination like a summit or a waterfall? Completing a particular route? Staying out until a specific time? It's nice to be conservative, especially in the beginning, but have a stretch goal in case things go well.

Kids Motivated for Outdoors

Seeking inspiration with maps.

Gear Up

Kids like shiny new gear almost as much as we adults do. If possible, get them a new piece of gear they'll want to go out and use. They also like to have their own things, so outfit them with their own pack, water bottle, headlamp and other essentials. Help them pack ahead of time, and let them help you pack if they're interested.

Kids Motivated for Outdoors

Geared up and ready for adventure.

Keep it Challenging

As their ability progresses, be sure to upgrade the objectives and keep it interesting. Don't hold them back by arbitrarily limiting the experience based on what you think they can or can't handle. It's better to push them a little and find out where their limits really are. Challenges that test their skills tend to keep them engaged. You can test their endurance as well, but don't make that the focus as they're unlikely to see the allure of chasing numbers.

Kids Motivated for Outdoors

Scrambling on Frisco Peak in the North Cascades.

Bring a Friend

If your child is an extrovert who feeds off of their interactions with others, then getting them motivated may mean inviting a friend along. Having an adult around that's not mom or dad may work just as well as someone their age.

Kids Motivated for Outdoors

Watching the first snowflakes of fall with a buddy.

Make it a Routine

When we were limited to weekend outings, we made Sunday "family outdoors day." There was no question about when we were going out next, and we had all week to plan and anticipate the adventure. This is a quick way to build a base of positive experiences. Those positive experiences make it easier to get them motivated for the next adventure. Like most things, the more you do it the easier it gets, and that makes it possible to plan bigger adventures.

Kids Motivated for Outdoors

Exploring above the Methow Valley.

Objections and Setbacks

Maybe your child is going through an uncooperative phase or is hesitant to try something new, or you've just gotten out of the habit of going out. While the goal is to get them excited to join you, that's not going to be the case every time. Think about how rewarding it will be to spend time outdoors together and make it happen. Sometimes I do drag my son out against his will. That generally means a rough start, but within an hour or two we're having fun, and by the end he's almost always glad he came.

We'll be back next time with practical tips for keeping your adventure on track (or getting it back on track) once you're out there.

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