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kids

Live, Play, Travel

Every Kid in a Park and the Fight to Get Kids Outside

September 15, 2015
meoehike2

 

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you know that getting families and kids outside is a passion of mine. I abhor the idea that an outdoorsy life has to end when a child enters the family. I believe that getting outside with your kids is not only possible – it’s essential.

Nature Deficit Disorder became a buzzword in the outdoor community back in 2005 when Richard Louv’s fantastic book Last Child in the Woods hit the New York Times’ bestseller list. Louv argues that, as children spend less time outside, emotional and behavioral problems begin to rise. It’s an interesting argument. I’m not a psychologist and I have no idea whether or not a lack of access to nature causes things like Attention Deficit Disorder. I’m not going to touch that with a ten foot pole.

I will, however, wholeheartedly get on board with the idea that access to the outdoors is a vital part of childhood (and adulthood, really).

 

Happy dad, happy kid. Rocky Mountain National Park.

Children learn by doing. They learn by getting their hands (and probably everything else) dirty. They need to have spaces and places to let their imaginations, and their tiny little bodies, run wild. They need fresh air and movement and the chance to explore a world that feels new and untouched (even if it only feels that way to them).

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who feels that way.

This year the White House rolled out a new program called Every Kid in a Park, granting 4th graders all across the U.S. unlimited access to federal lands for the next academic year. National parks? National monuments? National Pretty-Much-Anything? They’re all free for fourth graders.

Do you think the kids are excited?

I’ve talked before about the barriers that keep the current crop of kids from spending as much time outside as their parents but one of the things that I didn’t mention is the financial aspect. Visiting National Parks can be expensive. Starting next month, a visit to Arches National Park will cost you a whopping $25 per vehicle and other places are similarly priced. This may not sound like much if we’re talking about one visit to one Park, but if we want kids to have regular access to these special places (which we do, right?), the cost goes up significantly.

I certainly don’t think that taking kids to the big parks is the only way to get them to care about nature but I do think that it’s a step in the right direction. And if it gets parents motivated to take their kids to see some of our most treasured landmarks? So much the better.

Today’s youth have a lot of things vying for their attention – thanks to the Every Kid in a Park program for giving nature a fighting chance.

For more information or to get a pass for your fourth grader, please check out everykidinapark.gov!

Live, Play

Kids in the Outdoors: Evaluating Risk

August 15, 2015
OwenbackpackRMNP

I logged onto my computer this morning, fired up the internet, and came across this post on the 14ers.com Facebook page. The picture shows a couple proud parents and their happy looking kid on the summit of Handies Peak, one of the Colorado’s 54 14,000-foot mountains.

I shuddered.

Not because I thought that what they did was wrong but because I knew what was coming: a barrage of insults hurled at the parents. Everything from “WHY would you risk your baby’s life!?” to “I don’t want to hear a screaming kid in the mountains.” There were plenty of pats on the back too, as well as some very worthwhile conversation about things like babies and altitude sickness, but the responses that stood out were filled with vitriol.

These types of discussions seem to happen every time someone posts a picture of a small child doing something “risky”. And while I think the conversation that surrounds them is valuable, I hate how quickly they can devolve into name calling.

We know nothing about these people. We don’t know how much experience they have in the mountains or what their fitness levels are like. We don’t know if they live at altitude (giving the baby a huge jump start on acclimation) or sea level. We don’t know what their mindset was going in – whether they were hellbent on making the summit or whether they were willing to turn back at the slightest sign of distress. We just don’t know.

I have seen a lot of people doing stupid things with kids in the outdoors (and who knows, maybe I’ve been accused of the same). I will never forget the day that I saw a family with two small children leaving Broken Hand Pass, headed for the summit of Crestone Needle (a 14-er that is much harder and more exposed than Handies), in the late afternoon with storm clouds building. That was an undeniably bad idea (for anyone – with or without kids) and it left my friends and I shaking our heads in disbelief. But to suggest, without any other information, that a couple is being negligent in taking their baby on a 5-mile hike on a Class I 14er on a sunny day is something that I just can’t get behind, even if the final destination is the top of a great big mountain.

In the interest in full disclosure, I will tell you that we had planned to do this ourselves. When our kid was born my husband and I had grand plans to do tons of hiking with him and we very much hoped to take him up to the top of one of our tallest mountains. It didn’t happen, mostly because I ended up spending his two tiniest summers trying to recover from running injuries, but we had certainly hoped it would. We’ve spent a lot of time in the mountains and, with every adventure we go on, we know that the first goal is always to get home safely. Everything else comes a very distant second. And sure, crazy things can happen up there, but I’m pretty damn confident that we would have made it home just fine.

Let’s remember that the most dangerous part of a lot of these activities is probably the drive up the highway to the trailhead. And no one tells you not to do that with your kid.

I’m certainly not advocating for risky parenting and I, obviously, don’t think that we should put children in unnecessary danger. But I do think that it’s important to think long and hard about what we consider dangerous, and to realize that there are a lot of variables at play. Rather than immediately judging other people’s accomplishments and decisions because they are different than our own, let’s consider that maybe their situation is different. Maybe they considered the risks, know their own ability levels, and made wise decisions on whether they would try for the summit. Maybe we can give parents the benefit of the doubt and assume that, when it comes to their children, they are capable of making well-informed decisions.

Weigh in! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! What do you think constitutes risky parenting and where do you draw the line? If you have kids, how do you decide what is and isn’t safe for them? And how do you balance the risks (both for you and your kids) with the desire to live happy, active, fulfilled lives? 

Live, Play, Travel

Let’s Be Honest: Sometimes it Sucks

August 7, 2015
momOEfish

If we’re friends on Facebook or you follow me on Instagram you’ve probably seen a lot of pictures lately that make it look like the kid and I are having a really good time.

Pictures like this …

And this ….

And this …

And while a lot of our life lately has been fun and games (because summer!), it hasn’t all been awesomeness.

I have a tendency to share the good parts of life, the fun parts of life. No one, myself included, wants to hear about the tougher times. We like to post pretty pictures of ourselves and families and friends out doing rad stuff. I mostly leave out a lot of the the hard parts. It’s not because I want to lie to you or mislead you. It’s because I want to remember the good stuff (and most of it is good stuff!).

But it’s not all good stuff.

My kid has always been a great traveler. We’ve had our share of challenging nights in the tent but he is generally a pretty easy-going guy. Normal toddler problems aside, he is a happy, laid-back kid who is almost always up for anything. This has made him a great little adventure buddy. With my work being easy to take on the road and him not having much in the way of his own activities yet, we travel a lot. We visit family, go to the mountains, camp, and glamp. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Except when it’s not.

My parents are up in the mountains for the summer and the kidlet and I have been up there a bunch. Being around family and having a beautiful home base for all sorts of high altitude adventures is a pretty glorious thing. We went up at the beginning of last week, thinking we would stay for a week or so. Long story short, a week and a half later we were still there. And with my husband racing the Breck Epic all next week, we figured we’d just stick around through next weekend.

If you’re doing the math, that’s three weeks in the mountains. Three weeks away from home. Three weeks that should have been so much fun.

The first two nights I couldn’t sleep, which kind of sucked. What sucked even more is that for the next week, the kid didn’t sleep either.

To say that his sleep schedule went to hell would be an understatement. While some nights were worse than others, for the last week or so he has pretty much woken up every couple hours during the night and screamed his little head off for the next thirty minutes. Then he’d fall asleep and an hour or two later, the whole thing would begin again. And a kid that doesn’t sleep for several nights in a row? He’s tired and grumpy during the day. And so are his mom and dad.

And none of it makes for a very pretty picture.

Last night was the worst night we’d had while we were up there and when my mom gently suggested that maybe we should go home for a few days to see if we can get him back on his schedule, I wholeheartedly agreed. An hour later I had packed up the car, loaded up the kid and dogs, and headed down the hill. I felt a little bit defeated but also very relieved to be headed home.

I know that parenting is hard work and that good nights of sleep can be few and far between. I know that we have been very lucky to have a kid that generally sleeps and travels well. I know that these things are phases and that everything is constantly changing. I’m not telling you this story to complain. I’m telling you to point out that sometimes the pretty pictures don’t tell the whole story. I’m telling you that sometimes things are way harder than they actually look. And I’m telling you that sometimes it’s ok to give in, cry uncle, and go home.

The truth is that traveling with, adventuring with, and, hell, living with kids can sometimes be challenging. It may look like we hike and paddle and ride around and the kid is always thrilled to be tagging along. And most of the time, that is how it goes. But it’s not always like that. For every few times that we go and rip around Valmont, there is a time that a meltdown a half mile from the parking lot means carrying a screaming kid (and his bike) back to the car. For every couple blissful cruises around the reservoir on the paddleboard there is a trip that went to hell or one where we never even made it out the door. There are the amazing pictures from our last trip to Fruita, which couldn’t have gone any better … except for the time that the kid got bit by a fire ant at the bottom of the 18 Road campground and I had to carry him all the way back to our campsite near the top. Those of you who have been to Fruita know that that’s a long damn way to carry a kid that is screaming at the top of his lungs.

These things aren’t failures, although it’s easy to feel like they are. They are the reality of traveling and adventuring with kids. A lot of it is sunshine and wildflowers and all the good feelings. But a lot of it is really hard. And sometimes, like this week when I headed for home way earlier than expected, you throw in the towel.

That’s not failure either, as long as you get back at it.

I realize that I’m probably speaking rather dramatically about a week without sleep and that, in the grand scheme of things, this is small potatoes. In my own defense, I’m still totally sleep-deprived and feeling the frustration at the end of a long week. This week’s challenges, though, were a good reminder to never take the good days, the easy days, for granted.

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Live, Play

Finding Balance: Kids, Nature, and Technology

July 22, 2015
https://youtu.be/is5W6GxAI3c

A powerful video from the folks at Nature Valley is making its rounds on my Facebook feed today. It interviews members of three different generations and asks them one simple question: When you were a kid, what did you do for fun?

You could see the answers coming from a mile away.

The parents and grandparents of the children interviewed explained how their childhoods were spent catching fish and riding toboggans. They talked about how they built forts with their friends and played outside until the sun went down. Their answers came as no surprise.

Next they interviewed the kids who described their love for video games and iPhones. They said they couldn’t live without their tablets. They talked about how they use technology to break up boredom and help them through bad days. They spoke in terms of desperation. I would die without my tablet.

It should be noted that this is, first and foremost, an advertisement. But the fact that Nature’s Valley is trying to sell you granola bars doesn’t detract from the overall message: That kids these days don’t spend as much time experiencing nature as their parents and grandparents did. I like this ad because it rings true in a lot of ways. There is no doubt that today’s children are spending more time in front of screens and less time outside than ever before.

But technology is only part of the problem and to place blame on it alone is a dramatic oversimplification of the issue. It’s not like my generation, the people who are raising today’s screen-obsessed kids, didn’t have their own set of digital distractions. We never knew that someday we would have the internet at our fingertips (or that the internet would even exist) but we did have Nintendos and Gameboys and Nickelodeon and Saved by the Bell. The screen’s siren song may not have been as quite as powerful back then but it certainly did exist. So what changed?

I am not a social scientist but I can tell you what I have observed among parents of my generation and the kids that they are raising.

I have observed children whose days are scheduled within an inch of their lives. Children whose days, between school and homework and extracurricular activities, are so full that they don’t have much time for anything else. Children who are so exhausted at the end of the day that they want to veg out in front of the TV or computer or iPhone, and really, who can blame them? Don’t get me wrong, structured activity is good and important. But so is having the opportunity to explore and play and learn on your own.

I have seen loving, well-meaning parents so driven by fear that they won’t let their (appropriately aged) children go outside by themselves. Whether they fear their children being snatched by kidnappers or having the cops called on them for negligence, these kids aren’t getting the kind of freedom that we did. Many parents feel that the world has become a more dangerous place for a kid these days, but it’s just not true. The reality is that kids today are actually a lot safer than they were a decade or two ago, back in the days when we were kids ourselves.

I have seen families that are so overwhelmed and stressed out by work and parenting and life that they don’t have the time or energy to put into encouraging their children to get off their iPads and go play outside. Convincing your kids to turn off the TV can sometimes be a battle and for a lot of people, it’s one that they’re too exhausted to fight. And again, who can blame them?

We are a family that uses a lot of technology. My husband is a bona fide and self-described computer nerd who loves holing up in the basement (he calls it his “lab”, I call it “the dungeon”) almost as much as he loves riding and racing bikes. I regularly see the world through the viewfinder of my camera and my desire to acquire less crap means that I buy less physical books and do a lot of reading on my iPad. I love social media and spend a lot of time on my iPhone. Hell, my husband and I even met on the internet, back before meeting on the internet was a normal thing to do. For us, technology is an important and inescapable part of life.

I suspect that we’re not all that different from most people.

Like everyone else, we’re figuring things out as we go. We both take the view that all this technology is not going away (nor do we want it to), so we better learn to live with it. We do what we can to find balance and encourage our kid, as much as possible, to play outside. But we’re not militant about screen time. We spent all last weekend camping in the mountains but, as I type this, my son is watching his favorite show (Thomas the Tank Engine, obviously) on Netflix. Tomorrow’s plans involve a trip to the lake to go paddleboarding and some time spent hanging out on the beach. When we get home, tired and sun-drunk from a day spent outside, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll watch Thomas again. He knows his way around an iPad and a bike park. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, technology or nature. It can be both. If ever there was a place for moderation, this may be it.

I don’t know what the answer to all of this is. And while I certainly agree with the gist of this Nature’s Valley ad, I think it’s only a starting point for this conversation. Until we change the way we view childhood and address our own (often ill-founded) concerns around granting kids some room to roam, they will continue turning to their screens for entertainment. Until we leave some space in their schedules for unstructured, outdoor play, they’ll keep being so exhausted and overwhelmed that vegging out in front of a movie seems like the best possible idea. Until we give them places where they can explore and play and act like kids, they’ll continue to hang out on the couch.

As someone who is exceedingly dependent on technology but also a rabid lover of the outdoors, this is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I hope that this campaign (which seems to be going viral, at least on my Facebook feed) gets people talking about the things that keep our children from experiencing childhood the way that we did. I also hope that the conversation can address why we are addicted to technology and not just the fact that we are.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What do you do to balance the powerful lure of the glowing screen with your desire for your children to play outdoors What do you think keeps kids from playing outside the way that we did when we were little? 

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Live, Play, Travel

Raising Rippers, Boulder Style

May 26, 2015

 

Several years ago my husband and I volunteered at the first “clean up” day at the weed strewn tract of land that would later become Valmont Bike Park. While we had been racing triathlons and casually riding mountain bikes for years, we were still fairly new to the cycling community, and we were definitely still new to Boulder. So on a sunny Saturday we donned some work gloves and spent an afternoon pulling up weeds, picking up trash, and trying to imagine the world class cycling facility that was being promised. I don’t think either of us truly bought in to the hype.

Fast forward six years and it’s hard to imagine that I ever had my doubts.

Here are the stats, for the uninitiated: A 42-acre world class urban bike park that is absolutely free to the public. Trails and features for everyone from total newbs to the folks that love nothing more than flinging themselves off wooden structures that are many, many feet off the ground. Multiple pump tracks, a dual slalom course, big ass jumps, a sandpit, two sets of stairs for cyclocross, many rock and log features, and several miles of rolling trails make this a place that is fun for just about everyone who has any interest in riding a bike. Valmont has been home to everything from the weekly short track mountain bike series to cyclocross nationals and it served as a gathering ground when the Boulder cycling community lost one of its own.

But for me, it’s something very different than all of that.

When I was growing up, learning to ride a bike meant making laps on the sidewalk between our house and the neighbor’s while my dad hung on for dear life behind. Once I was off and pedaling, my two-wheeled adventures mostly meant trips around the block or to the 7-11 up the street. I didn’t wear a helmet (no one did back then) and my tires never left the pavement. I loved riding, but I had no idea that there was a whole other world of adventure beyond the confines of the neighborhood.

Compare that to my kid, who at two and a half years old has spent more afternoons cruising around on dirt than many adults have in the entire course of their lives. I started taking him to Valmont when he was around 20 months old, back when “riding” his Strider meant walking slowly along, his feet never really leaving the ground. Now, he flies. And every time I watch him fearlessly ride up to a new feature or pick up his feet and go cruising around berms, I feel grateful all over again for this community that puts such a premium on keeping all of it’s citizens – from the very youngest to the very oldest – happy, healthy, and active.

I love that my kid has a place to rip it up in relative safety, a place that is enormous and far enough from cars that I don’t have to worry about him getting hit. I love that he has a place to learn the rules of the trail and to practice yielding and sharing his space. I love that he can ride around with his little toddler buddies while pros do hot laps on the XC trails just a few feet away. I love that he sees both kids and adults being active and having fun in the outdoors. I love living in a community that thinks these kinds of things are very, very important.

I know that Boulder is somewhat of an anomaly and that not all communities have the desire, or funds, to give their kids (and their adults, for that matter) this type of environment in which to learn some new skills, stay healthy and active, and have a hell of a lot of fun outside. But I also hope that it can serve as a model for other places. With sky high obesity rates and electronic devices constantly begging for our attention, sometimes we need a little push. Give people a rad place to come together and play outside, and chances are they will … or at least that’s the thought that’s going through my mind when I’m chasing my little ripper around the trails at Valmont.

[A housekeeping note: My Facebook button is broken. I’m working on getting it fixed! In the meantime, you can follow along on Facebook by clicking here and liking my page. Thanks!]