Paul shared some advice about Raising Outdoor Children for a magazine article and we thought it worth adding to our blog as well. We hope you enjoy it and find it useful.
Less Time Outside Than Prisoners
A Guardian survey found 75% of children now spend less time outside than prisoners. What a demoralising and scary statistic. Few would argue that the way children spend their leisure time is changing. I would never have predicted a stat like that.
There are more home based distractions of course. Maybe school homework also takes more time than it once did. Parents may worry about the risks of children exploring outside unsupervised. The reasons are clear to see, but surely keeping children active in the outdoors is crucial. It is essential for physical well being but maintaining their links to the natural world is also essential for the protection of our environment. Lots of studies have shown that those emotionally linked to the natural world are more likely to look after it.
A Feral Adventure
My own childhood was a very feral adventure. My friends and I seemed to spend almost all our time outside. Sometimes this was near home, but our parents also seemed happy to allow us freedom to venture more widely. We also regularly spent unsupervised nights out in dens or tents. There is no doubt our parents were incredibly caring and responsible. They just seemed at ease with us being at large. I think they instinctively knew we’d turn up when we got cold or hungry.
The seeds were planted in those early days and sprouted when I joined my local Scout Group. My future was set. By lucky coincidence the scouts were going climbing on my very first visit and I was immediately hooked. I loved the personal challenge and the element of risk. From that first experience my whole focus was climbing and mountain adventure. It is an obsession that lives with me still. Even better, I’m now privileged it is also my employment.
The Peak Mountaineering Juniors
In my university student days I also met a like minded partner via the uni climbing club. Caroline and I have been together ever since and have enjoyed adventures all over the world. 18 years ago our thoughts turned to having a family and soon the Peak Mountaineering juniors were with us.
We’d seen the positive effect the outdoors had on our own lives. It was therefore inevitable we would want to provide the same opportunities once our own children came along. Raising outdoor children was an essential for us.
We were careful though. We always had in mind that, although we’d share our own interests with them, it may still be that they would ultimately choose a different path. They have done that to some extent. Tom is a keen fencer and Ben plays plenty of football. Fortunately, they are still keen to ski, climb, SUP, camp, mountain bike and hillwalk.
Every Child Wants Xbox Time
Our children are no different to many others and will still happily drift hours away on their XBox, tablets or by watching TV if we let them. We simply strive to get a balance. They first climbed at about 24 months and were regularly running and cycling while infant age. Skiing started at about 30 months and they were camping from well before a year old.
Ben actually first visited an overseas crag at 6 weeks old as we took him on a sport climbing holiday with us to Spain. It worked out great. Each day we hung his car seat from a shady tree at the crag base and he rocked himself happily to sleep in the Spanish warmth. It got more challenging when he learned to crawl though!
Hillwalking was, as it is for quite a few families, always more of a sticking point. We both have lots of professional experience walking with children and over the years we’ve gained ideas to enthuse and coax tired legs. This aspect of raising outdoor children was still a battle with our children. They just weren’t inspired by a long walk. Weren’t inspired, that is, until a pivotal day.
A Turning Point
One evening the boys walked through the door after returning from school and were immediately excitedly sharing their plan. It turned out a friend at school was heading off with his family to tackle the national 3 peaks and they had decided they wanted to do it too. There was obviously some friendly rivalry going on here but Caroline and I were delighted. This was the first time ever that our adventure apprentices had actively created their own mountain challenge.
We thought about how to make the most of their enthusiasm. It was decided the key was to maximise the development opportunities it could offer. The boys had come up with the idea and so surely they should continue to develop the plan. They dived into this with gusto while we learnt the power of getting them actively involved rather than just telling them what to do.
They chose the valley based accommodation. The boys decided what equipment would be needed. They selected the ascent routes and sourced the food. They gained so much and we learnt so much. At that time they were only 9 and 10, but so much more competent than we’d ever imagined. Of course we had to guide them, but the power of Google made very easy work of the planning.
We’d do the National Three Peaks differently, they decided. It wasn’t going to be about fastest or even continuous. For them it was about interesting. Over three great weekends the challenge was completed. We ascended Snowdon via Crib Goch and Ben Nevis along the Carn Mor Dearg (CMD) Arête. For Scafell Pike we decided to add an en route wild camp at Styhead Tarn. They were fantastic shared adventures and we have used the same model ever since.
One Thing Leads to Another
Since then they have come up with lots of similar raising outdoor children ideas. We get fully involved in the decision making and often drip feed ideas in to the mix. But we try above all to make the boys feel they are the masterminds. Some of the adventures have been simple and some complicated. Some have been easily completed and some got done at a push. A couple have failed. Regardless, they have all succeeded in inspiring and teaching the children and us. We have relished them all.
In the UK we’ve nailed the ‘10 Crags Challenge’. This involved completing 10 climbs on 10 different Peak District crags within 10 hours. This was another pivotal adventure for us as setting an end goal really focussed the day. It took far longer than we’d planned but we had the challenge of finishing in a time limit to keep us moving. We finished with two very tired children only 20 minutes short of the 10 hours.
A ten activities in a day adventure followed. This involved a circular door to door journey via mountain biking, scrambling, running, a sport and trad climb, bouldering, SUPing, caving, abseiling and gorge scrambling.
We have slept in the Millican Dalton cave in Borrowdale and completed a Snowdonia ‘Triathlon’ involved climbing Grooved Arête on Tryfan before cycling to Anglesey and kayaking a section of the coastline. We’ve ascended Commando Ridge in Cornwall and bivvied mid way up the Idwal Slabs. We’ve enjoyed lots of great experiences.
As a family we favour trips with overnights and this has been the tack for more recent outings. We planned some mountain bike rides from home that ended up at a half way youth hostel before returning by a different route. A few times we’ve done the same but stayed at a small B&B or Travelodge. Youth hostels have bike stores but we’ve always had a positive response from other places too. The best example was the Glossop Travelodge who let us store 4 mountain bikes in their staff room!
A Move to Overseas Challenges
At some point we branched out to add some overseas challenges. We climbed Table Mountain in Cape Town and completed some hut to huts in the Alps. We’ve climbed big rock routes in the Costa Blanca and SUPed around the coast of Northern Spain. This year we climbed on Naranco de Bulnes in the Picos de Europa range. This involved a long walk in, overnight in a mountain hut and multipitch ascent.
One of the best raising outdoor children overseas trips so far has been a family ascent of Jebel Toubkal in Morocco. We wanted an altitude trip (but one that wasn’t too high) in a place that was easily accessible but that felt very different culturally. It also needed to be manageable on a fairly low budget and this ticked all the boxes. The boys were fully involved in all aspects of the trip planning and learnt from the whole process.
They booked Easy Jet flights and planned timings. They coordinated with our in-country agent and created equipment lists. We also got them researching the route and the Morrocan culture and just about every other small detail we needed to consider. Our goal with this trip was to give them all the skills needed to be able to complete a similar ‘expedition’ in the future and I am confident we managed that.
The Need to Fuel The Fire
There was one factor we hadn’t anticipated though. Once the train starts moving there is pressure to keep providing more interesting objectives. Raising outdoor children provides challenges for parents too. We always try to make sure the boys realise that as much can be gained from smaller challenges as larger ones. The principles can be applied to urban adventure too.
We recently had to travel to London for a wedding and decided to apply the same principals. The boys sourced the hotel and we decided that, for London transport, we would just use the rentable ‘Boris Bikes’. The boys planned routes and downloaded the App that allows you to use the system. They planned some sightseeing and planned how to hone our luggage down so it was easily transportable (quite a challenge with wedding clothes!). It was another great few days.
For the future we already have several trips ahead. There are some shorter trips such as a challenge to SUP the west coast of Anglesey (with a support boat). We are still working our way through ticking all the Ken Wilson Classic Rock routes.
Overseas, Mont Blanc is on the agenda. The highest mountain in Western Europe and, in many ways, the boys biggest challenge so far. We have been working on this for a while and they have already been practicing using crampons and ice axes in Scotland.
We have also spent time looking at crevasse rescue techniques and preparing physically. Now they are looking at the various accommodation and logistical hurdles. They are starting to look at equipment requirements and even keeping an eye on weather forecasts. We are always there for them, but they drive the project. If done right, the planning and preparation is almost as big an adventure as the main event.
Reflecting back is interesting. Our boys unexpectedly gave us the key to unlock years of adventure. It was such a simple change to the way we operated but it has totally revolutionised how they see the outdoors. It also changed some significant aspects of our relationship with them. We have seen the outdoors through new eyes and that is a powerful thing. Involve your tribe involved and a new door will open for you too. Raising outdoor children is an honour.
If you enjoyed this blog post please also check Paul’s One Life. Live It article about a life changing experience in Jordan.