by Andy Hawbaker
Outdoor adventures have always been an important part of my life. Childhood memories are full of car camping, family bike rides, and annual road trips to the mountains. During young adulthood, I assumed having kids would put a damper on all that fun.
How wrong I was.
Adventures during my wife?s pregnancies were definitely shorter and less intense, but expecting a baby didn?t keep us from hiking, snowshoeing, and simply enjoying some fresh air together. Upon the arrival of our daughter, we discovered that hiking with an infant was pretty easy with a comfortable child carrier and a little planning. We tried camping with a three- month-old baby, and other than my wife not getting any sleep because she was too worried, it went off without a hitch.
Was it possible that my deep desire to be in the outdoors could actually be fulfilled with a family? Heck, yes! And in a lot of ways, with even more fun than ever before. Today, I?m the proud father of two daughters who love the outdoors. They look forward to camping trips, enjoy snowboarding, and even tolerate longer hikes; it?s all they?ve ever known. Squeezing a camping trip into nearly every summer weekend is the norm for our family, not the exception. In fact, if we skip a weekend or two, the kids start asking when we?re going camping again, a sign of true parenting success in my mind.
Of course, it helps that we live in Colorado, with Rocky Mountain National Park right up the road, amazing ski resorts nearby, the seldom-visited mountains of southern Wyoming close enough for a weekend trip, and the canyons of Utah ready for spring explorations.
What is the ?secret? to our family?s success? Three incredibly simple, tried-and-tested guidelines:
Start young ? My girls were both carried on hiking trails as infants, camped in the first few months of their lives, and demanded to learn snowboarding ?just like Daddy.? They have quite literally grown up in the outdoors, and they love it. I know they?ll look back at these family camping trips with very fond memories.
Make it fun ? We all get frustrated when kids don?t cooperate, so build fun into the plan. My kids know every camping trip involves a slackline, hula hoops, a dutch oven dessert, and a fun twist on the classic s?mores recipe. Also, we always camp near water, sand dunes or other fun spots that lead to lots of exploring, naturally.
Bring a friend ? Everything is more fun with a friend. We try to schedule most camping trips with other families with kids of similar ages. The more kids, the more likely they?ll go off and start their own games independently.
Over the past two winters, we?ve taught our children how to snowboard. I tried to get them to try skiing, but they refused, not wanting to ski if mom and dad both snowboard. I have to admit it made sense, so I bit the bullet and taught them the ropes. Last year we headed to the local ski resort every weekend. Each week they improved just a little bit. We didn?t push too hard, we encouraged, took lots of breaks, brought tons of snacks, and weren?t afraid to call it quits when the weather turned extra-cold.
I don?t mean to imply every day we have in the outdoors is perfect, as we do have frustrating moments. Occasionally, I don?t get to cover as many miles as I?d hoped for, but that?s okay. In the end, it?s all about those little moments when we laugh, learn and play together. My absolute favorite part is when someone says, ?Let?s do it again?.
Andy Hawbaker is a Social Marketing specialist for Sierra Trading Post and Hip Mountain Mama. He and his family live in Colorado. Find him on Twitter at @AndyHawbaker, @SierraTP, and @HipMountainMama.