As we teeter on the edge of a new month, it’s worth remembering that raising adventurous kids doesn't have to be complicated. Often the very best thing you can do for your kids your family is to keep it simple. This has been on my mind a lot lately, thanks in part to a post the other day about CLIF Kids' Backyard Games contest and the simple joys of playing outside. Life seems to only be moving faster with each turn of the season, and I can almost feel the planet revving up in anticipation of spring. Blink and it will be summer: Time for camping trips, river trips, the year’s best and biggest outdoor missions.
All great stuff, of course, but if you’re like me, the ceaseless whirl of activities can get a little overwhelming. The secret, of course, is how do we slow down without stopping. How do we downshift into a simpler routine without sacrificing the adventures that inspires us? How do we raise active, curious outdoor kids without turning them into overscheduled, hyper-achievers? Here are five strategies I've been practicing lately.
1. Do Less.
When I asked my husband this question the other night, he said, “Do less, consciously.” I like this answer in theory, but I’m not sure I’m very good at it in practice. Just this morning I squeezed in a two-hour trail run after breakfast, leaving me a tiny window in which to write this post. On tomorrow’s agenda: an early Easter Hunt followed by the last ski day of the season, dinner with friends. Is the hustle worth it? Will our one and three-year-old really benefit from one last afternoon on the slopes? Probably not. Note to self: It's OK to pare down the schedule. They just want Easter candy.
2. Stay closer to home.
Before our daughters were born, I vowed that we’d travel internationally with our kids once a year. I’m not sure what I was thinking because our annual trip to Canada nearly wipes us out, and it’s only a four-hour flight—to a country that speaks English and where we have family. Not to mention pricey. Obviously I was delusional. But traveling in a tighter radius really does work. Two weeks ago for spring break, we ventured all of one hour north from our home, to a borrowed house in Taos. Aside from a day of skiing, we had nothing on the agenda. It wasn’t that we lazed around—we hiked half a mile down to soak in Stagecoach Hot Springs on the Rio Grande, became regulars at Taos Cow ice cream shop in Arroyo Seco, rode bikes on the rutted road by our house, and explored new trails in the Rio Grande Gorge—but none of it was planned. We had no grand ambitions or expectations, and as a result, it was the most relaxing and fulfilling four days we’ve had as a family—without a doubt more restful than a week on the beach in Mexico, and a lot cheaper. Our New Mexico staycation was a good reminder that doing less is important, but scheduling less and leaving more space and time for spontaneity is even better.
3. Sleep out with your kids.
Leave the intense scheming for trips that demand it: longer wilderness trips. Day hikes in the backcountry are terrific equalizers, but to really decompress as a family, and to slow time, your best bet is to get out, and sleep out, for more than one night. You don’t have to be hardcore—car camping in southern Utah or bunking in backcountry hut in Maine can be just as transformative—but the key is to leave the comforts, routines, and distractions of home at home. Outside, away from wi-fi, the weekly calendar, the endless to-dos, life is simpler, slower, distilled to its true essentials. Eat, play, sleep—the way we wish it could be all the time. Sure, it takes major planning to spend even a few days in the wilderness with young kids, and it can be hard work while you’re out there, but the emotional payoff is huge—for everyone. We always come back from our river trips rejuvenated and energized and closer as a family.
4. Be mindful.
Studies show that we’d all be a lot saner and calmer if we could sit in utter peace and quiet, clear our mind, and meditate for half an hour each day. But, really, who has the time? Instead, try mini-meditations. Look for the stillness in the space between: Even three minutes spent hanging the clothes out on the line can be a chance to catch your breath. Try not to think about taking your kid to the climbing gym or your next mountain bike ride or whose turn it is to make dinner. Instead, tune in to the birds, watch the clouds scud across the sky, listen to the kids playing in the backyard, realize you are here, and that’s what matters.
5. Stop multitasking.
Apologies to those who disagree, but multitasking is the biggest scam of parenthood. Doing several things at once doesn’t make us smarter or more efficient—it just makes us distracted. If you’re reading this while eating lunch, stop. Just eat lunch. Avoid the temptation to check your email at red lights or shoot video while your kid is skiing or blog while your kid is underfoot (guilty). There’s a Zen saying: Wash the dish. When you’re washing the dish, just wash it. So please, for everyone’s sake, just wash the dish. Do one thing at a time. Everyone will be happier for it.
Do you have your own strategies for slowing time while staying active? I'd love to hear them.