Getting Kids Into the Outdoors Starts in the Backyard

The following was produced with our friends at L.L.Bean, who believe that, on the inside, we’re all outsiders.

Any parent who grew up ruling the neighborhood streets on their bike, climbing trees, or flipping over rocks to see what they could scare up will want their kids to do the same. And while they might worry that there’s more competing for children’s attention today than ever before, the truth is, getting kids to go outside, is still as simple as … going outside. Instilling a love for nature and the wonders of the great outdoors can start right at home and doesn’t require breaking the bank on the craziest new camping gear. (Not that we’d turn down one of these incredible tents. So. Many. Tents.)

There are lots of little ways to ease kids into outdoor exploration before setting them free like the wildlings they are. A guy who’s practically required to know all of them is John Gans, the executive director of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). The school teaches survival skills, risk management, and leadership in traditional and outdoor classrooms. Gans himself was a NOLS student in 1979, a counselor in 1981, and has been executive director for the last 22 years. His star pupils are his children, including a 24-year-old daughter who’s now a NOLS instructor. To be fair, they didn’t have much of a choice.

“I took all my kids camping before they were one year old,” Gans recalls. Easy enough for the career outdoorsman, but what about the novice whose idea of outdoor living is a screened-in back porch? Gans says even a simple living room play fort can lay the foundation for outdoor exploration and curiosity. And you were gonna build one of those after lunch, anyway.

“It sounds silly, but it inspires them,” he says. “And it translates quickly to going to the outdoors. Kids have a natural curiosity for camping. They love it. If they show enthusiasm, get them involved.”

They will show enthusiasm because of course they will–pillow forts rule. At that point, it’s on the parents to channel their inner Boy Scout…

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