Erin Kirkland, journalist and founder of the Alaska family travel site AKontheGO, suggests starting where you are, literally and figuratively: ‘The goal is success for the entire family,’ she says ‘and to get there, you’ll need to begin at the beginning, with your youngest and/or most inexperienced family member.’
While each child develops differently, we’ve come up with suggestions for the right age to take kids on various adventures.
If you’re a parent who has enjoyed outdoor adventures before kids, there’s no reason not to take your child along and introduce them to the outdoors right away. Remember, a newborn is still developing their immune system for the first few months, so parents should be careful in exposing babies to crowded public spaces, but that doesn’t mean your child cannot go outside.
Ensure the baby is dressed appropriately for the weather (think Goldilocks — not too hot and not too cold), limit exposure to the sun, and use sunscreen once the baby is older than 6 months (younger than that use hats, clothing, and shade to block the sun.
It’s also easier than you may think to go camping with infants. Before they start crawling, parents don’t have to worry about babies getting into dangerous areas around the campsite (i.e., a fire). This is a great time to try some low-key overnight camping at a state park close to home in case you need to run back to the house for emergencies. But it’s probably not the best idea to camp out in the dead of winter or heat of the summer.
Infants (6 – 12 months)
Outdoor activities for infants include hiking, camping, and swim lessons. Of course, a 6-month-old isn’t going to ramble down the trail, but ‘hikes’ with a stroller (regular or jogger) can be great exercise and self-care for Moms and Dads.
Between 6-12 months it gets more challenging to camp with a growing baby – they need to crawl around and move, and anything they pick up (sticks, mud, bugs) goes straight into their mouths. Parents need vigilance to ensure their child’s safety. If you want to continue the camping experience at this age, perhaps stick to a tent in the basement or backyard.
Also, around 6 months of age is a great time to start introducing your little one to the water during swim lessons. Fear and separation anxiety start to develop around 8-9 months, so introducing the child to the water beforehand will make it easier to continue those lessons through this period.
Toddlers (2 – 3 years old)
At 2-3 years old, toddlers do not have the strength or patience to complete a 3-mile hike, but they always enjoy spending time with their family outdoors. Plus, getting the chance to study insects, flowers, or a stream for minutes at a time is a sure winner. Toddlers love to be outdoors, and most will be thrilled to sleep under the stars.
For a toddler’s first camping experience start with a simple overnight close to home. Get a good tent to protect everyone from wind, rain, and cold, and be sure to stick to your toddler’s schedule. The first campout is probably not the time to keep the kid active all day without a nap, and your campsite neighbors will also appreciate not hearing junior’s meltdown.
For watersports, this is a great time for short canoe or kayak rides with your toddler in the center compartment of the boat. Don’t stay too long on the water (20-30 minutes will suffice), and always have young children wear a properly fitted life jacket. At this age, remember, it’s not the destination that matters, it’s building a comfort level with the outdoors and an expectation for going on these adventures.