It’s one of the most talked about subjects among outdoors sportsmen and women: how to raise kids who love the outdoors. Over the last few decades, technological advances have dramatically changed the world and how young people spend their time. As a result, some families with generations of avid outdoors men and women are finding that their youngest generation has little interest in hunting, fishing and other outdoor pursuits.
Here’s how to make sure you’re doing everything you can to spark a lifelong love in your children for the outdoors:
1. Take them out when they’re young and embrace the hassle of it
Hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, boating or anything else in the outdoors with very young children in tow is a lot of work. You have to watch their every move. You have to bring a lot of gear. You have to take breaks. You have to take greater safety precautions than would be necessary on an adults-only trip. As a result, you may be tempted to wait until your children are older but some outdoors people say that in doing so, you’ll lose vital opportunity to make the outdoors a lifelong interest for them.
“Don’t get discouraged,” advised outdoorsman Michael Lanza, who writes about his young family’s outdoor adventures on his website, TheBigOutside.com. “Take them out anyway. If you wait until they’re older, you may find that your child isn’t interested. Introduce children to the outdoors while they’re very young and make it part of your family lifestyle, so that you nurture in them a long-term love for it.”
2. Emphasize that it’s all about the experience
Jimmy Gretzinger, host of the popular Michigan Out of Doors TV show, believes that many parents approach the getting-the-kids-to-love-the-outdoors effort without important strategy.
“Some people think that by focusing on the excitement that comes when you take a buck or catch a massive trout, the kids will be more interested in getting out there,” Jimmy said. “But emphasizing that aspect of the experience sets their expectations really high, leading to disappointment. It also completely takes away from the full experience and enjoying the time together in nature. That being said, take time to consider what type of scenario would be most successful for your kids. For example, if I take my kids fishing, I know they’ll likely do best blue gill fishing with worms and bobbers. Put the time into planning what your kids will enjoy most, which may not be your first choice. Go out of your way to make it the best experience possible.”
3. Make it special, quality family time
Many families have hyper-scheduled lives with work and extracurricular activities that limit quality, distraction-free family time. Talk about how you’re looking forward to the outdoor outings for the opportunity to be with your children, free from the hectic pace of everyday life. When you’re out in the field, up in a stand or on a boat downstream, make a conscious effort to be fully engaged in conversation with your kids.
“It’s all about the experience – and that’s what’s critical to show kids,” said Jimmy Gretzinger. “Take a look at the older generations of outdoors people. When it comes to planning camps, they always want to be sure everyone who should be invited, is invited. They want to make sure no one misses out on that tradition and sense of community and togetherness. Do your part to make sure your kids have the chance to join in the social aspect of the outdoors for the full experience.”
4. Enroll them in outdoors education classes
In addition to the obvious safety purposes, outdoors education classes give kids important understanding that fosters confidence in their outdoor activities.
5. Let them pick outdoors-focused summer camps
There are seemingly endless options for special-themed summer camps focused on sports and the arts. But you may be overlooking amazing outdoors-focused camp opportunities coordinated by state and national organizations. Experiencing the outdoors with outdoors-interested peers may be more impactful than their family experiences.
6. Gift them the right gear that suits them well
Your generation may have been content with hand-me-down binoculars and fishing bibs that never fit quite right. Today’s reluctant or distracted youth may have new-found enthusiasm for the outdoors when they’re given the right gear that fits well and performs in all conditions. For example, binoculars that are comfortable to use for hours on end and provide an extremely clear view, even in low-light conditions, may make the difference in them spotting and taking an animal – and subsequently having extremely memorable experiences. Outfitting your children with the right gear – just as you do for their sports or other extracurricular activities – may change your children’s perception of its role in their lives.
Youth-friendly gear that’s affordable and packed with features to improve their experience:
- Vanguard Pioneer 975RT backpack in Realtree® camo
- Vanguard Major League Bowhunter 10 x 42 binoculars in Realtree® camo
- Vanguard VEO-AM 234TU versatile shooting stick
7. Don’t cut off technology entirely
Today’s young people have never known a world without the internet and advanced devices. Being disconnected from tablets and phones may seem heavenly to us but uncomfortable for kids. Rather than disconnecting from the digital world entirely, consider integrating technology into the experience.
“Younger kids may have a hard time staying engaged in the outdoors after a few hours,” said Jimmy Gretzinger. “A short break on an iPad may improve the overall enjoyment.”
Over the last few years, app creators have introduced extremely slick, valuable and fun-to-use applications – from survival guides and GPS-based locations to hunt to shot simulators and how-to aids. Tech-savvy youth are always after something new to try and are quick to learn new programs. Be game for new things; your kids will appreciate your open-minded approach.
Millennial and avid outdoorsman Dusty Birge, of Colorado, reminded that the key is to make the effort one of your parenting priorities.
"I was so young when my dad first introduced me to the outdoors,” he said. “He made a true effort. This way, he knew that when hunting became an option, I already knew how to respect the land. Hunting was not just what my dad taught me, but what his dad taught him and so on. My father saw introducing hunting to me as a way to learn my roots. Our time together ended a few years ago to cancer. Delaying introducing me to hunting would have limited our experiences together as a family. I’m so grateful that he taught me as a young boy to love the outdoors the way I do. Otherwise, I wouldn't have been prepared to continue on my own. Start early with your kids. They are the future.”