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Raising Outdoor Kids



I returned from my dog walk with Romy early this morning to find Henry waiting eagerly with this question,


"Can I go on your morning run with you, Mom?"


It was 6:00 am and 12 degrees outside. Usually at those temps, I opt for yoga or more coffee-on-couch time, but I was not about to decline an invitation that made my heart sing. So off we went.


Although I'd like to take all the credit for this (almost) 13 year old wanting to hit the great outdoors for a workout before school, most of it belongs to former Navy SEAL and ultra-endurance athlete, David Goggins. Since discovering him on YouTube, Henry has been inspired to a never give up mindset and endless push ups, while emphatically shouting, "They don't know me son!" Google Goggins and this will all make more sense.


Motivational YouTubers aside, what I did realize today, is that modeling an outdoor lifestyle may just be one of the most powerful ways to raise an outdoor kid.


Since our boys were little, my method for getting them outdoors had been to create programs where they could meet up with other kids: from bike clubs, to skating clubs, to after school outdoor programs. As a teacher passionate about getting kids outside, this was no real sacrifice for me and being with a group of kids really did make the outdoors more fun for them.


But aside from the time I spent outdoors with our boys, I wasn't pursuing any outdoor recreation of my own. Not until 2019: the year I decided to become an outdoor adventurer.


I don't remember what inspired this, but I have some guesses: Nostalgia for the college years when I did some hiking? The need for something separate from mothering and working? Mid-life situation?

I hadn't really hiked since my 20's and I certainly wasn't running outside in the winter, but I had visions of the me I wanted to be...and she was rugged. Sleeping in trail-side huts, climbing tall mountains and spending her days outdoors.


To kick off this new goal of mine, I convinced a group of friends to spend the night with me in an uninsulated cabin in February. We had to hike our sleeping gear and food one mile in to this cold cabin with just an outhouse. I knew nothing about sleeping in huts in the winter and I had next to nothing in terms of winter gear. What I did have, was enthusiasm - you can see it on my face. You can also see the jeans I was wearing since I didn't own snow pants.



I'm still grateful to this group of trusting women for adventuring with me - even when I had no idea what I was doing. I think they needed the time away in the woods as much as I did. And it really did put me on the path to the new outdoor me.


Since that weekend, I've continued to venture into the woods and have learned a lot. Since making the decision to live adventurously in the wild, outdoorsy people seem to drop onto my path all the time, teaching me about the best mountains to hike, which AMC huts to book, and what to wear for winter running.

The quality of my life has greatly improved since making the decision to spend more time outdoors and I'm grateful to all of the knowledgeable people who've given me tips, tricks, advice and inspiration along the way.


What I didn't realize, until this morning, was that modeling an outdoor lifestyle may be just as impactful as outdoor programming for our kids. By normalizing daily walks on trails, early morning winter runs and weekend mountain hikes, we pave the way. Our kids don't think it's bananas to lace up the running shoes at 6:00 am on a brisk January morning. They don't question the hours of packing for a hiking trip. And they don't think twice about playing outdoors...because this is what we do for fun. Even as adults.


I'm no longer running outdoor kids programs, but the friendships our boys built during those years have endured and so has their ability to play outside with those friends. Still, they're now in middle and high school, so they also play plenty of video games with friends...and that's (mostly) ok with me, because 9 times out of 10, they'll choose an outdoor activity with friends over a screen if given the chance. Through enough positive experiences outdoors, they've learned that time outside is a good way to spend a day...and a life.


So dear David Goggins, while I'm not out there running 135 miles in Death Valley's scorching temps or doing 4,030 pull-ups in 24 hours, this middle-aged mom is climbing her own mountain and committing, every day, to a life of outdoor adventure. Thank you for inspiring my 13 year old to run with me before school. Best way to start my day.


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