Kids and the Outdoors: Make it a Family Affair

Cragmama training the next Chris Sharma

Most of my fondest childhood memories involve the outdoors in some way or another.  Whether it was running through a neighborhood meadow armed with a butterfly net and field guides, collecting worms along the lake bank with my dad before casting our fishing lines, or practicing cannonballs with my mom at the local pool, I grew up spending more hours outside than in.  Now that I have a 16 month old son of my own, my hope is to instill a love and respect for the outdoors in him the way my parents did for me.

Unfortunately, images of wet, muddy kids gleefully entertaining themselves in the backyard with nothing but sticks and stones to play with are becoming a rare commodity these days, replaced by a newer generation of overweight, over-stimulated, over-medicated and “under-natured” children watching TV and playing video games.

Something has gone terribly wrong.  Check out some of these alarming statistics compiled by the National Wildlife Federation’s Green Hour Campaign

  • The average American child spends more than 6 hours per DAY staring at some sort of electronic screen.
  • The childhood obesity rate has tripled over the past 3 decade.
  • The number of children using anti-depressants as well as ADHD medications such as Ritalin are on the rise.
  • Today’s American child only spends 4-7 minutes per day involved in unstructured outdoor play time.

Its pretty scary to think where we as a country will end up 30, 20, or even 10 years from now if we continue to sit on the couch and play video games with our kids rather than exploring nature with them.

Canaan (aka Cragbaby)

Its about more than just “getting kids outdoors.”  Yes, getting outside is the first step, but in order to truly develop a lifelong love for outdoor recreation and an attitude of responsibility and stewardship towards nature, we need to do much more than just push kids out the door and into the backyard while we finish cooking dinner.

It starts with families – a road trip to a national park, a weekend camp-out in the mountains, or even a family bike ride on the local greenway.  Kids are impressionable little people that are eager to soak up whatever kind of learning we throw their way.  If we choose to teach them how to pick out good sticks for roasting marshmallows, they’ll learn that sleeping outside under the stars is loads of fun.  If we teach them that biking through neighborhoods to the nearest ice cream shop is a lot better than sitting in a car in traffic, they’ll learn that they can make a healthier planet by reducing their carbon footprint.

My son Canaan (aka Cragbaby) was born into a family that lives and breathes rock climbing.  He’s been hitting crags all over the Southeast since he was 6 weeks old, and no one could argue that he loves every minute of it (well…except for long car rides, but I can’t blame him for that).  Does this mean he’s gonna grow up to be the next Chris Sharma?  Who knows, and really, who cares?  The important thing is that our family is outside spending quality time together, and regardless of where he ends up 30 years from now, my prayer is that he’ll be a happy, healthy, and well-adjusted adult with loads of fond memories to look back on when he’s ready to start a family of his own and raise the next generation of outdoorsmen/women.

So I guess you could call this post somewhat of a call to arms – a call for parents to step up and be a good example for their kids.  Our children are looking to us for knowledge, wisdom and inspiration, and they won’t find it if we aren’t willing to bring them along on our adventures and let them explore right alongside of us.  Its time to redefine adventure – no longer is it something dad does Saturday mornings with the guys out at the lake, or something mom does Sunday afternoons on the hiking trail.  Adventure is a family affair – so turn off the TV and get outside!


Erica Lineberry is a Mommy, a climber, and a writer who has a passion for getting outside and enjoying God’s Creation.  She is the mama behind Cragmama, a blog and online resource for parents who believe that starting a family doesn’t mean an end to adventures.  One of her most recent projects has been “Creating a Cragbaby,” a short film created by Jan Balster in response to the series on her blog by the same name that documents the challenges and rewards of outdoor adventure for her entire family. In addition to rock climbing, Erica also enjoys camping and wandering around in the woods with a backpack on, as well as pretending to know how to mountain-bike and fly-fish (although she’s probably not fooling anyone).

5 responses to “Kids and the Outdoors: Make it a Family Affair

  1. Wow! This is a terrific post! And I love the little film. That Cragbaby is a lucky baby indeed. You and your husband are great role models for families everywhere!

  2. Great post! As the father a six-year old with another on the way, I too am alarmed by the way our kiddos’ childhoods seem to be slipping into a sedentary and listless place. It’s nice to know that there are (other) people out there who are being actively involved in getting their children off the couch and out into the wild, wonderful world! Our daughter has been a rock climber since she could walk and ran her first 5K when she was 4. Maybe the Chickabiddy and Canaan will meet at a crag someday and talk about their crazy parents! Thanks for the fabulous post!

  3. Paul Baptiste – At that point we’ll be lucky enough to be able to top-rope C and C’s warm-ups :)

  4. Great post! I wasn’t as lucky as you when my kids were Cragbaby’s age to have a husband just as dedicated to pursue adventure, but my kids have always been outdoor kids! Backyards, parks, sandboxes, and camping trips have always been at the forefront. I am lucky now to live in a neighborhood filled with children that play outside together all day, it reminds me of my own childhood.

    My kids and I are about to embark on their first road-trip out west and outdoor climbing experience! Better late than never

  5. Krysia – Awesome! You guys are gonna have a blast!