Introducing Kids to Outdoor Adventure: Advice from Cragmama

I’m not a big fan of most “mommy bloggers.” I know their intentions are noble and their efforts are nothing short of remarkable but the vast majority of them fail my “Come on, now” test within 30 seconds. The “Come on, now” test is my personal Geiger counter of authenticity/reality that doesn’t respond well to ultra filtered images of perfectly coiffed “15-minute meals” and “super easy craft projects” that look like they were conjured by a sparkle fairy princess on Prozac.

“Come on, now.” – NO one has that kind of time, especially the hard working moms that I know.

On the opposite end of “Come on, now” is “Holy crap, that’s fantastic” which is where Erica Lineberry would reside if she JUST blogged about hiking, climbing and camping. It just so happens that Erica blogs about hiking, climbing and camping with her crag baby–and as of just eight weeks ago–cragBABIES. Erica’s Cragmama blog documents her and her husband’s efforts to raise children who “don’t remember their first time climbing, camping, hiking, etc. They don’t remember it because to them being outdoors enjoying nature is something their family has always done.”

Erica Lineberry aka Craigmama with her family in their natural element.
Erica Lineberry aka Craigmama with her family in their natural element.

Erica’s blog features no-filter photos of her growing family doing the best they can to live healthy, active lives packed with as many fun experiences as they can handle. I like Erica’s blog because it’s filled with creative ideas that anyone can do. Her writing is inspiring but she doesn’t claim to have all the answers. She shares her victories as well as her challenges all with an air of gratitude and self awareness that’s hard to find in the “Everything is awesome, especially me” blogosphere.

I first connected with Erica two years ago when she agreed to review our women’s EMS Longtrail 60L pack. With Mother’s Day coming on strong, I thought I’d ask her for her best advice for anyone (not just parents) who is interested in introducing kids to outdoor adventure. Cragbaby #2 has Erica pretty busy right now, but she agreed to let me comb her blog for cool ideas to make the outdoors second nature for kids AND the adults responsible for their safety and happiness.

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Dirt Is Good

Erica is a big believer in letting her kids get dirty. Let’s face it, dirt is a healthy by-product of just about every outdoor sport so you may as well embrace it and avoid future drama. To introduce her son to the fine art of making mudpies, Erica duplicated a DIY project that made it easy for her son to have a blast making a mess of himself without trashing her house.

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Start At Home

Just as babies have to crawl before they walk, it’s important to expose them to outdoor fun where they’re most comfortable. To keep her son occupied with “self directed play” while introducing him to the natural wonders all around him, Erica has him create simple art projects using leaves he collects himeself in their yard or at the local park.

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Make Things Interesting

A simple egg carton became a treasure chest of pine cones, acorns, pine needles and colorful rocks that Erica challenged her son to find while they’re out and about. To her son, he was just having a good time scouring the area for treasure. For her Erica, she was laying the foundation for longer excursions that eventually became 5 mile hikes.

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Make Learning or Overcoming Fear Fun

The photo above says it all. Easter is over, but you can easily hide small toys, dollar bills or other treats in climbing holds to give your little climber an extra incentive to dig deep and get after it. This is such a cool idea because while it takes effort to earn the prize, the fact that it’s hidden decreases the odds of a tantrum if he fails the first few times. There may be a prize at the next hold, they’re may not. That’s why you have to keep on climbing!

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Savor the Journey Not the Destination

Parents plan, toddlers laugh. Over the last few years, Erica has learned to enjoy the moment because with young kids, you never know how long that moment will last before a minor accident or age-appropriate mood swing will cut the day short. Also, when a 3-year old is setting the pace, it’s a good time to relax and appreciate the little things you’d ordinarily miss when you’re focused on the summit, a goal or a best time.

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In her post about camping with infants under age one, Erica makes a bunch of awesome points to quell the fears of parents who have been conditioned to be over-protective  for fear of being “bad parents.” “The sooner you get him or her out and exposed to new situations, the more equipped they will be to deal with change in the coming months.”  I think that makes a ton of sense and like the photo above, the sooner you get your kid to help out with chores, the less those chores will seem like work. There are so many small jobs involved with setting up a camp site that small people can do and gain a sense of accomplishment from.

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“External Motivators” Are OK

Erica is not down with bribery but she has no problem with “a small treat here or there as a reward for an accomplishment.” A couple of gummy bears after a big uphill push or after an acceptable time on the trail or milestone achieved keep little hikers motivated and happy.

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Know When To Dial It Back

Little kids are pretty good at letting you know when they don’t like something or are no longer having fun. If they’re protesting the effort level of the activity, slow down or try an easier route. If they’re protesting the activity itself, there’s nothing wrong with doing something different (bug collecting, bird watching, frog spotting) and trying the other activity another day.

I mentioned that this post wasn’t just for parents of small kids but ANYONE who is interested in helping to inspire the next generation of outdoor adventurers. I can’t stress enough how much I mean that. Especially in a world where technology is king, entitlement is queen and nature is generally ignored by the general population if not mocked outright like the Toys ‘R Us commercial below. You don’t need to have kids of your own to introduce kids to the outdoors, you just have to care.