The Summer brings about all kinds of opportunities for quality family time with your kids. While you often can hear about mothers dealing with challenges of the extra free time kids seem to have on their hands, it’s time for Dad’s to step up and draw their children into adventures. Here are 10 Lessons compiled from a group of Dad’s in Charlotte, NC on lessons learned from taking kids on adventures from infants to the teen years.
Lesson 1: Newborns can travel too.
Contrary to popular belief, babies can travel. They don’t spontaneously combust on an airplane. They don’t melt if you take them out in the rain. They don’t drown if you put them in a boat or canoe. They don’t fall apart with a little sand in their diapers at the beach. And they don’t break if you hike them up a mountain. Sure, those early months and years are a precious and demanding time, and you will need to adjust your activities, but you don’t have to stay at home to enjoy them. If you’ve both got some leave and are starting to argue over who does the next diaper change, then why not change your location instead. It’s an excellent time to explore the world together. Just start by getting away for the weekend. Or even going for a one-night camping trip. You might as well have no sleep in a place you’ll remember.
Lesson 2: Toddlers are easier in the outdoors.
It’s a myth that being trapped in the house with the little cookie monster for days on end is a healthy situation for you both. Toddlers were made for stomping in puddles, for gathering up leaves in the woods, and for stuffing twigs into pockets. The outdoors is a great big playground. It’s also free. Why visit expensive fun factories or waste money on play barns when you can explore the world together at no cost? Take a wagon of snacks and see what’s out there. (Let me repeat this Dad’s: make sure you bring a lot of snacks! )
Lesson 3: Tweens and teens bring challenges wherever they are.
Everyone knows children can be challenging—tweens and teens especially—so why not let them sulk in a pleasant environment? Let them hate you while the sun beats onto your back and a light wind fans your face. Let them text their friends from a forest instead of phoning them from their bedroom. Help them broaden their horizons, take on responsibility and give them the chance to say what’s on their mind without the distractions of everyday life. Challenge them physically to climb a mountain or ride a long distance together on a bike. Spend time with them now, keep those communications channels open and you can build relationships that will survive almost anything.
Lesson 4: The world is a natural learning environment.
You don’t need to teach them a language if they’re immersed in it already. You won’t need to teach them emergency navigation skills if you give them a map and let them figure out the way on a regular basis. A school is a great thing, but the world is the most efficient teacher there is. I can’t think of many better learning environments than a dad teaching their kids in the outdoors how the world works. Just think of all the subjects that crop up when you’re out exploring the real world. History, geography, science, math, art, and languages never feel like a chore when they’re studied as part of a journey.
Lesson 5: Family life is more fun when you’re together.
On a family adventure, you chat, joke and laugh. You share things. You have a good time. You have tantrums. But let’s face it: if there’s going to be tantrums, at least there will be others there to share the anger. So much of daily life is spent in separate rooms or even different buildings. Come together once in a while and get to know each other. Build up a bank of shared experiences that you can draw on. It’ll help to ground you for when more difficult times set in. Make those deposits now.
Lesson 6: You don’t need all that stuff. Really, you don’t.
Always thought a stone was a dull, everyday object? Think again. Our family adventures always remind us that the plastic toys, the Nintendo DS’s and the GHD hair straighteners are not what life is all about. Life is about people. Ditch the stuff and try playing with each other for a change. If you’re worried about your children being stripped of their precious iPad, don’t be. You’d be amazed at what a pocket full of stones and a lake can do for a relationship with your kids.
Lesson 7: Taking on new challenges boosts confidence.
Who doesn’t want confident children? Every time you go on a journey together, go somewhere new or try something different. You create an opportunity to learn new skills for yourself and the rest of the family. Learning to deal with travel and new experiences builds character and develops personal resilience not only in you but your children. You’ll discover that you and your family can deal with way more than you think and that’s great for everyone’s confidence, even if at the moment it’s a challenge.
Lesson 8: Adventures create strong reminders of their childhood.
Some of my best memories growing up are camping trips with my dad in Yosemite. Children grow up in the blink of an eye and let’s face it: a lot of regular life isn’t that memorable. But adventure ramps up the number of new situations, people and places we encounter. It stirs up emotions of all kinds, and deepens and tests relationships, which creates lots of strong, shared memories. We won’t forget the time we slept out under the stars, the sense of achievement when we climbed our first mountain, that time we got caught in a rainstorm in a canoe, or when we caught our first fish. And these memories of our adventures together anchor us to moments in their childhood. Add to that the photos, videos, diaries and blogs we have of adventures at every age and it’s sure going to be hard to forget what happened when the kids were growing up. Memories of experiences shared as a young family are the glue that keeps an old family together during hard times.
Lesson 9: Getting out with the kids keeps you fit, not fat.
Middle aged beer gut setting in? Get on your bikes. Or up a mountain. The children will be fitter than you, and closer to their peak. Let that be a challenge, not a problem. They’ll thank you when their own middle age sets in.
Lesson 10: Parenthood is short.
You think it will last forever. It doesn’t. Make the most of it while you can. Be a UNCOMMEN dad. Take your kids on adventures. They will never forget it. And neither will you.
About the author: Sam Casey is the Managing Partner at Banyan Creative. As the father of two small children, he’s a big fan of ditching the iPad and finding time with kids on the bike, on a trail, or anywhere life allows family adventure.