Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Raising girls who rock the outdoors is not just good for your girls’ physical health as human beings. It’s also good for their mental health and their level of confidence in life. Unfortunately, cultural bias and society’s gender stereotypes sometimes run in the way of empowering girls to be the brave adventurer they could be. The good news is that every parent has the power to raise kick-ass outdoorsy girls, even if they live in a city and even if they didn’t themselves grow in outdoor-loving families. It’s all about doing what’s best for your girls and listening to what they like.
I grew up on a tropical island with two brothers, largely a tomboy by anybody’s standards. Outside was where we played because it was better than being inside. We got scrapes, bruises and the odd ER run but nothing serious. I thought that these things were “normal” for kids, whether they be boy or girl, until I had girls of my own. Gender stereotypes run deeper than you would hope in our society.
My girls are 11 and 13 years old. They’re perfectly balanced kids and at their age, school defines their world. Alas, my girls’ school scores pretty high in the old-fashioned gender stereotypes category. Boys play football (soccer). Girls do ballet. Boys get muddy. Girls stay clean. I say, BS.
I don’t care what image of the world this school projects. If boys can do it, girls can do it too. Here’s my no-BS list of starter things to do to raise the next urban Katniss Everdeen. To girls who rock the outdoors!
There’s a point to dark-colored clothing–mud and dirt don’t show as much. Have you never noticed how kids’ clothing stores sell darker colors for boys and lighter colors for girls? Just walk into any old children’s clothing store and see if you can find dark green for girls or light pink for boys (bonus points for the boy sweatshirt that says “Totes Amaze” in silver). Good luck with that!
The great outdoors displays a wide array of colors but when it gets on your kids’ trousers or sweatshirt, it’s not pale blue with silver sparkles. Depending on your local soils and vegetation, your kids can come back with variations in dark brown, green or dirty grey. Hence the idea of dark color clothing. You can get dirty and it’s invisible!
I like ballet slip-ons, but nobody can climb a tree or run down a trail with them. You don’t need to buy expensive shoes to inspire a walk in the woods, but at the very least, your girl’s shoes should have the following characteristics.
Three months and hiking with a baby bottle, that’s the life. Nowadays, babies go outside as soon as they’re out of the hospital thanks to great baby carriers or strollers. In Scandinavia, local parents take their babies outside in sub-zero temperatures for their daily naps because it’s part of their culture. The truth is, there’s no minimum age to get girls outside.
As long as they can join a trip to your grocery store, your girls are ready to enjoy the great outdoors. On the plus side, you’ll get to enjoy some fresh air and recharge your energy levels too. To do this, you can join local parent groups by looking them up on Google or on Meetup.com.
Children need to take risks in order to manage risks and the earlier they learn to take risks, the more confident they will be as they grow. In fact, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health said that access to active play in nature and outdoors—with its risks— is essential for healthy child development.
Its Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play says that children need “risky play,”which includes climbing and jumping from a height, unsupervised play where a child could get lost, cycling fast down a hill, playing with knives, or playing near water or cliffs. It adds that children who do so improve their reaction time in detecting risk, increase their self-esteem and are less likely to takes risks related to sex and drugs as adolescents.
Climbing, jumping, rolling, diving, running, hiking, sliding–girls can do anything as long as it’s fun. In that respect, girls are no different than boys. They’re just being kids and kids like to play. Do they need instructions to play? No, kids are naturals. However, I’ll let you in on a little secret. You can’t hurry play. Play needs time to be fun. Do you remember how you lost track of time when you played with other kids in your childhood? I used to play hide and seeks for hours on end until my parents called my name to get home and wash before dinner. Your girls are the same.
Structured activities are great but unstructured play makes all the difference between an OK-day and a great day. Next time you’re outdoors, make sure that you set aside at least 30 minutes, hopefully more than an hour, to let your girls have fun without “parental structure”.
Ideas on how to make the outdoors fun.
Do it now. Save a day each week to enjoy quality time with your girls outside. It can be any day as long as you commit and say to yourself, “Alright, today we’re going out no matter what.” No excuses. No last-minute shopping. No lazy day.
Don’t let the weather get in the way, it’s easy to dress for any weather. If you know what you need to get done over the weekend, cram it in your Saturday and save Sunday for outdoors time. Imagine having a whole free day just to be outside, listen the birds, have the sky above your head, feel the wind in your hair. Awesome, right?
Our kids are very active on social media and like to share their experiences with their friends and wider network. My 13-year-old loves to experiment with Instagram or Snapchat and as of late, has been trying all sorts of creative angles with timelapses or videos.
If you pick a spot that offers social media-sharing opps, you increase the chances that your girl will get excited about being outdoors. Here’s a list of fun (and free) photo editing apps to make the most of a good shot. When your girl shares her adventures outdoors, her friends will see it and night be inspired to do the same. Go social media!
My job as a parent is to be supportive of my girls in whatever they want to achieve, and that includes the outdoors. Besides taking them outside and organizing fun activities, I also talk to them about strong female role models who rock the outdoors (athletes, adventurers, artists) and I always say yes to everything they want to try outside. To support kids to be active, check out these healthy living tips from 7 Olympic athletes, including 5 female Olympians.
Amongst the fun things to do with your girls, you can try to:
Your girls need you to help them rock the outdoors like nobody else. Whether you’re a dad or a mom, a grandmother or an uncle, you can play a part in making the great outdoors accessible and enjoyable to the little girls in your life.