The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

April 15, 2014

Explore: Little tasks can build kids’ outdoor skills

— When I mentioned to some friends that my husband and I were taking our sons and their buddies on an overnight camping trip at a state park last summer, they rolled their eyes and said with sarcasm, “Have fun.”

The thing is, we did. A lot of it. And we’d do it again tomorrow.

The reason? The kids — both ours and their buddies — had been taught skills and helped us in setting up camp and packing for home.

This greatly reduced the pressure on us as the two lone adults and gave the children a sense of purpose and responsibility.

I’ve found that to be true with all outdoor activities, and our family does a lot. It’s more enjoyable for everyone when children have a clear understanding of how equipment or gear works, and it lays the foundation for them to eventually be self-reliant.

Spring is a perfect time to work on skill-building. Here are five areas to tackle as time allows:

Camping: By the time a child is in elementary school, she should be able to help set up a tent. When it’s unpacked, ask her to gather the tent poles, and direct her in guiding them through the flaps and eyelets.

An older elementary aged child should be able to help hammer the stakes into the ground. Demonstrate how to tie a clothesline around two trees for hanging wet towels, then let her try it.

Practice in the backyard on a weekend or after school; you may be surprised at what a cool hide-out a tent becomes for reading comic books or playing a game of cards.

Biking: By the time a child is in mid-elementary school, he should be able to air up a bike tire. Showing him how to twist on and off the cap will help him improve manual dexterity, and operating the manual pump is a muscle builder.

Show him how to use a gauge and read the numbers on the tire to determine how much air the tire needs.

Hiking: Children are born with a natural curiosity for the world around them and love to ask, “What’s that?” By preschool, a child can begin thumbing through a field guide for animals or plants. Explain that such a guide can be used when trying to identify a bird, a reptile, a wildflower or other living thing. Point out the pictures and the names, and show her how the guide is divided into sections.

Fishing: Stop baiting that hook for your child. By early elementary school, he should be able to bait and cast himself. Consider teaching an older elementary aged child to clean what he catches, if it is to be consumed. It’s easy to send dad or grandpa to the backyard to do it instead, but dad and grandpa can’t do it forever. It’s also a great biology lesson and a chance to practice safe knife handling skills under adult supervision.

Gardening: Teaching my sons to identify weeds to pull and how to properly cut back liriope each spring has saved my back, helped instill a work ethic and earned the boys a treat — usually ice cream or a dollar or two for their piggy banks. Provide a child with his own pair of gardening gloves and, if budget allows, a small set of his own gardening tools, then show him how to use them and where.

I’ll admit it’s a natural tendency to brush children aside and say, “Here, let me do that. It’s faster. It’s easier.” Including them in the process sometimes can make an activity or task twice as long.

But I’m thankful my dad and grandpa took the time to not just show me outdoor skills but to allow me to try them and perfect them. I can’t imagine my life today without them.

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