Want to feel truly alive this new year? Make it a year of outdoor fun and let kids lead the way. A young child will help you tune into your senses and rediscover the wonders of nature. A third or fourth grader will make you want to dig deeper to learn more about what makes nature tick. Preteens and teens will enthusiastically organize your next blood-pumping outdoor adventure—as long as they get to participate with you.
We aren’t growing when we don’t get out of our comfort zone. There is some kind of magic that kids have about them which inspires us to get moving and growing again. If you don’t have kids of your own, borrow them from a family member or a friend. Or become a mentor to a child through a community organization such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
I remember one memorable bicycling adventure with my nephews that took me outside of my comfort zone. The boys were preteens who led me through winding streets in their city to show me their school, their favorite outdoor spots—including a park and a marsh—and their favorite place to get an ice cream cone. I was used to bicycling in rural areas and small communities, not in a big city. But, this was their world and they became my teachers. They confidently and safely showed me the way and I peddled straight through my fear of metro-area bicycling.
Another time, my nieces led the way through a mile-long wonder-cave. Unbeknownst to us before we started, it was missing some of its indoor lighting. As the only people in this self-guided grotto, we shared some unforgettable experiences that still echo through my mind as we groped and giggled our way through the zones of pitch blackness. Coming out into the daylight together, we certainly felt more alive than when we had started!
Time for my disclaimer. I’m a trained environmental educator. An outdoors person. Fun-loving (read: quirky) if you ask the kids in my life. This outdoor stuff is easy for someone like me, but how about you? Maybe you don’t define yourself as outdoorsy and don’t have a clue about (or even like) nature? Or maybe you aren’t very active and don’t feel much like adventure? I’ve got four tips that I believe will help you feel more comfortable and motivated to get started. It’s worth it. You know it is. How could you not want to feel more alive in 2019 while you build a priceless bond with a child or adolescent in your life?
Set a date with a kid and a sunrise or sunset. Let the the young person decide what to do on this date. Where should you go to see it and what should you bring? How will you honor the moment as you see the sun begin to light up or slip beyond the horizon? How will you remember this specific sunrise or sunset experience together? With a sketch? A sunrise/sunset journal? A poem you write together? A selfie? A special snack? Will it become a monthly routine? Just make a big deal out of how the child is leading the way to get you connected or reconnected with awe in your life and discover what that feels like for both of you. This simple immersion experience will give the child a great subject for taking the lead. It will also inspire you to reflect on your own life. Aligning with the natural cadence of the earth and sharing that experience with a youngster will surely get you in a new year’s groove—one that holds great promise!
Accept that you don’t need to be a subject matter expert or have highly developed outdoor skills. When you are truly empowering a child to be the guide of an experience that you two will share, it is about exploring and discovering together—not having the answers or being a wizard of nature trivia. In fact, immediately calling trees, birds, flowers, etc. by name can interfere with the experience of shared wonder and discovery. Decide up front how you both will keep the experience safe. For example, if you are going off a designated trail or path, do you need to learn what poison ivy looks like before you go? Also, plan for follow up. When will you both share in learning more about that butterfly you saw or where the water goes after it leaves the creek where you walked? There will be time to build outdoor skills later when you become more outdoorsy (read: confident outdoors). That will hopefully happen as part of the goals you set together with the youngster who is growing beside you and excited to help.
Be encouraging and enthusiastic. It can make a significant difference to a child to know that an adult believes in him or her and cares about how they view the world. When you are enthusiastic about the experience, your positive energy about following their lead goes a long way. A youngster may begin to see that he or she may be a rising leader worthy of leading the way on other matters, too. More than ever, our world needs strong leaders who have developed close connections with people and nature. Your encouragement can move them in that direction.
Let things unfold naturally. Just let it happen. Give in to the serendipity of nature and be amazed at even its smallest surprises. Empowering a child to lead means that you gently nudge him or her when there is a need for direction. Even when the most unexpected happens (like a downpour), the experience becomes even more memorable and challenges both leader and follower to let it build their character.
Kids can give us a greater sense of purpose. And what better purpose is there to get off the hamster wheel of life and get back into the swing of what makes life worth living? Let kids lead you outdoors this year. It’s about changing a child’s life while that child is forever changing yours. And our planet gets two steps closer to a brighter future with people who have connected with nature and appreciate its wonders.
How will kids lead you outdoors this year? What comfort zone will you ask a youngster to help you grow out of?