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6 ways to get your children to love the great outdoors

Posted February 15
Updated February 16

Teresa Vehar's daughter, Alyssa, poses for a picture on the Wasatch Crest trail above Desolation Lake. (Deseret Photo)

THE GREAT OUTDOORS — If you’re like most parents, getting your kids to enjoy the great outdoors is comparable to scratching a chalkboard with long fingernails. It is excruciatingly painful for all involved, and the mere thought of attempting to do so again sends shudders down your spine.

Many of today’s children go to extreme fit-throwing lengths with the slight mention of going on a hike or an outdoor family outing. “It’s hot,” many will say. “It’s too long,” others will tout. “It’s boring,” is another complaint that has escaped the mouths of many protesting children.

As a result, many parents give up, with the unfortunate result being a large number of children who don’t get to experience even a part of what the great outdoors has to offer.

However, there are those parents who have proven successful in their efforts to not only get their kids outside, but to enjoy it. Here are some tips from some of those families.

Start them young

Many parents run into problems merely because they start too late. Much like adults, children get stuck in their ways, and as they get older, it becomes more difficult to introduce new things, especially if it includes things that could possibly make you uncomfortable for extended periods of time.

That’s why Charity Brooks said she and her husband have started their children young.

“We take them on their first camping trip as infants, and then we never stop,” she said. “It is the one place there are no boundaries and no worries about where they can and can't run/climb/be wild. Starting them young makes them hooked for life.”

Give them a taste

Oftentimes, outdoor enthusiast parents are so excited to show their children all there is to offer so they plan long and all-encompassing excursions that often overwhelm the little ones in the process.

It’s much like setting a giant platter of cheesecake in front of someone and saying, “It’s delicious! Eat it all right here, right now.” Sure, the cake is great, but eating it all at once will cause you to get sick and might even leave you with no desire to partake of even the tiniest bit of that cake ever again. However, if you showed your children the large cake, then cut them a tiny slice, they would be able to more fully enjoy it— and leave them wanting more.

Mother of two and registration manager at Vacation Races, Cherie Santiago has experienced more than her share of what Utah has to offer in her travels around the state and country. However, she is careful not to do too much all at once.

“I like to start with small outings,” she said. “Engage with them, find things they like to do and implement that activity outside. My older daughter loves anything outside, my younger daughter fights it until we are actually outside.”

Lead by example

Mother of five, Teresa Vehar loves hiking and running hundreds of miles in the Wasatch Mountains and beyond. Each time she goes, she snaps pictures so that she can show her kids where she’s been in hopes of inspiring them to have a desire to join her. Due to this, there have been many times when those photos also include her children, because her efforts have paid off.

“I show them pics of cool places I've been, and when they see them, they want to go there too,” she said.

Include them

Mac Urie grew up spending time in the wilderness, and learned to love his time out there. However, when he became a father, he knew that in order to instill that same love in his children, that he would need to share that time with them.

“I got some advice right before we had our first kid from a customer I was doing a job for that put things in perspective,” Urie said. “The customer told me to ‘Just take them outside with you, when and wherever you go. Don't tell them they can't come. They can always tag along, and they won't slow you down.’

"I have many times sacrificed an epic outdoor hike, run, bike ride, etc. to mosey along with the kids and I have never regretted it. We have taken the kids into places that a lot of adults wouldn't go and they still talk about the ‘adventures’ they go on.”

Be spontaneous

From teachers planning out each minute of the day to extracurricular activities, much of a child’s day is planned. So, when you approach the great outdoors the same way, it isn’t much of an adventure, but more of the same planned activities they are used to.

Chrystal Anne, mother of four, said that spontaneity is her secret weapon to getting her kids to enjoy the outdoors.

“Give them Ziploc bags and tell them to go collecting. Let them get dirty. Take them on adventures outside. Be less planned and more spontaneous,” she said. “When they feel like they are free to explore on their own accord, then they are less likely to fight, and more likely to enjoy it and ask for more.”

Reverse psychology

If all else fails, good old reverse psychology might just do the trick. At least that’s what mom of four, Hillary Davis said.

“Tell them they can't go outside and then all they'll want to do is go outside,” she said.

After all, if telling your children that they can’t stay in all day is keeping them glued to the couch, just think what the opposite might do. ... They may just get hooked.

What are your tips for getting your children to love the outdoors?

Arianne Brown is a mother of seven young children who loves hearing and sharing stories. For more of her writings, search “A Mother’s Write” on Facebook. She can be contacted at ariannebrown1@gmail.com. Twitter: A_Mothers_Write.

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