A longtime backpacker, climber and skier, Michael Lanza, along with his 9-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter, embarked on a yearlong trip through our national parks. He chronicled the journey in his book “Before They’re Gone — A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks” (Beacon Press). Here, he shares ways to develop the next generation of outdoor adventurers.
1. Encourage outside play. A slew of experts agree that regular, unstructured outside play is critical for a child’s healthy development. “Kick them out of the house,” Lanza says. “But also, give them the freedom to roam within boundaries appropriate for their ages.” It also helps to plan regular activity as a family: cross-country or downhill skiing, hiking on local trails, biking, even walking around your neighborhood.
2. Start slow. “Begin with short hikes and gradually work up to longer outings,” says Lanza, who gathered personal experience as a field editor with Backpacker magazine. “Evaluate your child’s readiness for something new based not just on its physical difficulty, but how well your child handled previous experiences that presented comparable stress.”
3. Communicate. Lanza cites one important rule: no whining. “Tell your children they can talk about any situation they’re not happy with, but draw the line at complaining just to complain.” At the same time, he advises including them in the decision-making process, so they have a sense of control over their own fate.
4. Be flexible. An outdoor adventure with children does not always go according to plan. Young kids want to throw rocks in a creek and play in the mud. Lanza’s advice: “Let them. But, explain that there will be time for playing, but also a time for hiking.” Meanwhile, parents should “focus on the journey rather than the destination,” Lanza says. “And have plan B at the ready.”