How do we raise our kids—and specifically our girls—to love the outdoors as much as we do?
It’s harder these days than it was when I was growing up. The bombardment of media and activities that compete for their attention and time, plus the safety factor of our modern society—it’s a challenge.
And like anything else, we can’t guarantee our girls will love everything we do, including the outdoors (and if they don’t, we can focus on other things we have in common). But there are steps we can take to help them:
Our Top 6 Tips for Raising Outdoor-Loving Girls
1. Provide Lots of Opportunities
When getting in the outdoors is normal for you, you can make it normal for your daughter(s), too. Whether it’s to your local parks and trails or on cross-country road trips, plan outdoor adventures into your life regularly.
My friends, Alison and her husband, have raised four outdoor-loving kids (they have three teens and a 3-year old). She suggests:
“Start young and get outside every day if possible. Even if you just have time for a quick stroll around the block, get out of the house. Talk about what you see and don’t be in a rush. Little ones will take their time and stop to look at every detail along the way, from puddles to sticks, but there’s no reason to hurry or have an agenda.”
Jamie, my daughter, said:
“Both my parents loved the outdoors, so it was easy for them to just take us along with them! It was natural and normal to do so much outside—I thought it was normal for everyone!”
Britta, another friend, is the mom of three very young children:
“Having another sibling who loves the outdoors is a big bonus: Elliot has helped Annika love being outside because he loves it. They go outside so much together and spend a lot of time entertaining themselves even at just almost 5 and 3. And Annika is ALWAYS more willing to be outside if I’m out there with her. I’m a work in progress for getting myself outside with my kids more regularly!”
2. Make It Fun!
Keep things simple. Ask your girl(s) to choose the location or activity sometimes. If she wants a challenge, take on a challenge…but is she doesn’t, there will be opportunity for challenges down the road. Bring fun snacks you only eat in the outdoors. Keep your attitude light, even if things go wrong.
“Do one extra thing that makes the trip or the excursion special. Maybe stop for an ice cream on the way home, or bring some friends along. Maybe you could try one new thing while you’re out such as kayaking, riding a zipline or a horseback ride. Promise an ice cold drink and big meal after a long hike.” (Alison)
3. Expose Them to a Variety of Outdoor Experiences
Start with the activities you love to do. Then talk about what new experiences you’d like to try together. Visit different parts of your state or country. Find out what unique experiences are available in those other places and try them.
Did you go to the beach last spring break? Go to the mountains this year…or the desert. If you’ve already hiked and biked a few times, try paddling.
“We explored new places—we always went camping at the same place every year, but we also traveled around the USA and found new places too! It was always fun to see something you hadn’t before. Finding new places also meant DOING new things.” (Jamie)
“Explore your area and around your state, even our country, if you’re able. The more you see, the more memories you build as well as the desire to see what else is out there. Let them help plan and give input. My daughter wanted to see the ocean—that turned into a three-week road trip down the west coast.” (Alison)
My friend, Kathleen, has five daughters (and two sons):
“Our girls all love the outdoors. I think one of the biggest factors is that we gave them opportunities to experience a variety of outdoor activities as a family. We camped our way from Minnesota to Washington (the state) many summers to visit family.
“Those times held exciting adventures: hiking in the Badlands and having a close encounter with bison; camping next to rushing mountain streams and rivers; tenting in a wildlife refuge where a herd of wild horses stomped and snorted around us; hiking in Glacier National Park and simply beholding the magnificent beauty of God’s creation; having the overwhelming sense of closeness to the Lord that is so unique in a place like that.” (Kathleen)
4. Teach Them about the Outdoors
You’ve taught your kids all kinds of things—depending on how old they are—from potty training to reading to driving…Teach them about the outdoors, too.
My sister-in-law, Jenny, said this about raising their own two daughters (and son):
“We brought them camping and fishing, we taught them about the outdoors and the different types of birds and animals. We taught them to respect nature and animals, and they see that by my actions.”
“Camping was our family vacation. They put us in swimming lessons when we were very young, taught us to canoe, to fish, to run away from bugs, and to not be afraid to get dirty! Some of my favorite childhood memories are from our camping trips.” (Jamie)
Another tip from Alison:
“Spend a little money on good gear. Children grow quickly, but having nice equipment helps. If they have a headlamp or hiking sticks they feel like they’re more grown up. Good hiking shoes or boots prevent blisters. Warm sleeping bags keep them cozy. You can always look for items second hand if you’d like.”
5. Invite Their Friends Along
This is more important for some ages than others, but it can make or break an experience sometimes! You can either have her invite a friend she knows is also outdoorsy, or invite someone who doesn’t come from an outdoorsy family. You may very well open up a new world for her.
I used to take our kids camping every summer for a week or two at a time. Once they got into middle school, we often invited one or two of their friends along. It was always a positive experience. Most of them asked to go along again…some multiple times!
Sarah, one of those friends (who is now 23), sent me this photo just a few days ago, from 2008:
She wrote: “That was the first time you guys brought me camping with you—a trip I’ll never forget!”
6. Ignore Their Attitudes
Sometimes we just need to be the parents and know what’s good for them! Pressing through their reluctance and complaints has its rewards.
I love how my sister, Katy, found ways to help their son enjoy the outdoors even when he didn’t want to (which, of course, we can use with girls, too):
“Ours needs prodding to get outdoors. But once we’re out there, a good view or some bouldering makes all the difference! We also gave him the camera to take photos, and we brought a wild berry guide to identify what we come across.”
Alison has experienced the attitudes at times, too:
“Just do it! Even if your daughter seems reluctant or complains, she’ll be happy she grew up having those experiences. Some of our favorite memories are of camping and hiking, even when it’s not so great. My daughter was stuck in a tent on her birthday last year eating beans and rice while it poured rain. We can laugh about it now!”
How Else Can that Love of the Outdoors Evolve?
Sally and her husband raised three sons…but she grew up with four sisters on a dairy farm in Minnesota. Here’s her story:
“We didn’t have a TV until I was in second grade and living in the country we played outside all day long. We didn’t have lot of toys but a lot of imagination. We played in mud puddles after the rain, walked almost a mile to our mailbox, climbed trees, and picked wild flowers in the woods. It was a great childhood.”
My friend, Kathleen, gives credit for her love of the outdoors to her dad:
“I think it all began with my Dad, a lover of God and the great outdoors. He and Mom took our fairly large family camping in the mountains of Washington many times each summer. Our days often began and ended with Dad commenting quietly, “Kids, this is really living.” Fortunately, I married a man who was up to doing this sort of adventure too! I am grateful for the richness it all brought into our daughter’s lives. Now they continue the tradition of outdoor activity as they begin their families!”
Another friend, Karen, said:
“I didn’t really raise my daughter to love the outdoors. She found she loved hiking and camping as a necessity at first, and grew to love it more and more. The necessity was that she lived in remote places in other countries and had to hike, as there weren’t other options.
“Since then she learned to love the outdoors and now lives off-the-grid and has a sustainable-living property to tend. Lots of blood, sweat and tears have gone into tending the land.”
So whether raising your girls with a love for the outdoors comes naturally to you, or you need to be intentional about it—it’s worth it!
One of the most precious benefits I’ve discovered? Your mutual love of the outdoors gives you all kinds of opportunities to spend time together once she’s grown up!
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Sharon is the founder and publisher of Active Outdoor Women. She loves getting outside in beautiful places to hike, paddle, camp, snowshoe, ski, ride—and encouraging others to come along! Besides maintaining AOW and her other website, Twin Cities Outdoors, Sharon writes and designs websites, newsletters, blogs, emails, books and other marketing tools for clients.