The headline, “Quit Doing These 8 Things for Your Teen This Year if You Want to Raise an Adult” appeared innocuously in my Facebook feed, shared by a friend from a churchy website about spirituality, relationships and parenting.

The things parents are not supposed to do, according to this triplet rearing mom blogger, is wake up kids in the morning, make them breakfast, pack their lunches and do all the laundry. You get the idea. This wasn’t necessarily a tough love piece. On the contrary, it was about providing skills and routines for success in life.

Tough love: Providing skills to the next generation of canoeists

Shouldn’t this thinking also be true if we want to raise competent outdoor enthusiasts? Don’t we need to provide the happy campers of today the skills and abilities to be the adventurers of tomorrow? Sure we do. Studies show time and time again that the biggest influencer of the next generation of climbers, paddlers, hikers and skiers is families, most often parents. It is not enough to just take them outside. We need to show them the way.

a boy and girl working on a canoe
Daniel to Mr. Miyagi: “I learned plenty, yeah, I learned how to sand your decks.” | Feature photo: Scott MacGregor

From planning to packing, kids can and should help

Outdoor recreation experiences consist of more than just the activity itself. Poring over maps, waxing skis, tuning bike derailleurs, seam-sealing tents and sanding wooden gunwales is all part of the fun. Granted it may not seem like fun to them, at first. But if we do everything and just let our children drop into our family adventures, we are robbing them of the most valuable thing we can give them.

Even before menus and packing checklists come out, I think we need to include kids in the dreaming stage. My kids dream up more adventures than any family schedule would allow. Dreaming is fun. And dreams don’t come true if you don’t flirt with them in the first place.

Without children being part of the preparation, we’re not teaching them valuable and practical planning and organizational skills. This is also the time we can teach them about first aid kits, rescue equipment, stoves and fuel, fishing tackle and secret spices mixed in fish batter.

Packing is as essential for outdoor adventures as it is for business trips.

Small, meaningful tasks teach children important life skills on and off the water

Make lists with kids and send them off to divvy up piles of the required items. Performing pre-trip inventories together is always a good idea no matter how old we are. We do this every morning when we leave the house. Keys, wallet, phone, coffee. Check.

Nobody goes down a portage trail without a meaningful load. Okay team, this big pile of stuff has to be moved from here to way down there. I don’t have a guideline for how much is reasonable but there is no way anyone is going to the other end empty-handed. The walk together back for another load is one of my favorite times we spend together.

After the trip, too often kids are released to their bedrooms when tents still need to be hung, laundry needs to be started and smoky black pots need scrubbing. Pack-in is when the very important reflection stage of adventure begins. Already the bugs don’t seem as bad or the miles so far. Trip stories are already being exaggerated and the jokes are even funnier now than just a day before.

Our pack-in playlist fires up the troops with Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar on Me and winds down with Van Morrison’s lonely Into the Mystic. I always put the last pieces of gear away with tears in my eyes.

I know it would be faster to do all these jobs ourselves. Getting things over with isn’t my goal. Maybe I’m trying to raise outdoorsy adults or maybe employing their help just buys me a few more hours together on a clock that stops ticking after 18 short years.

When we truly succeed as parents we win by losing. Our children will dream up their own adventures and ultimately their own lives. And because we’ve given them the skills to plan, pack and head out on their own, the best we can hope for is to be invited to join them, so long as we do our fair share.

Cover of Early Summer 2017 issue of Canoeroots MagazineThis article was first published in the Early Summer 2017 issue of Canoeroots Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

Daniel to Mr. Miyagi: “I learned plenty, yeah, I learned how to sand your decks.” | Feature photo: Scott MacGregor



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here