What if you don't have any interesting hobbies that are fun for the whole family? Don't be afraid to try something new. Do it for the kids. Let this be your moment to break out of the mold. We figured if we raised two kids in Colorado and never got out in nature, they'd never let us live it down. So we bought some hiking boots and a guide to the Pikes Peak region and started walking.
Whether its hiking or something totally different, look for an activity the whole family can do, something that's:
- Age Appropriate — Kids as young as 2 and 3 can join in all forms of recreation and babies can be toted in a backpack. Just remember to go for versions of your favorite activities that your kids can enjoy. If you're a distance swimmer, think kiddie pool when the family is along. If an activity is too advanced, the risks of boredom, irritability and injury are greater.
- Scalable — Look for activities that are enjoyable for those starting out, with room to grow more advanced — sports, music and art come to mind. We're happy to complete short, easy hikes right now — while the kids take three steps to our one — knowing that someday, when everyone's older and more experienced, we'll still have lots of challenging terrain to cover.
- Repeatable — Some activities are events: trips to the circus, getaways to Disney, even a local amusement park. Hobbies aren't like that. They're activities you can fit into your schedule as often as once a week. By choosing something you can do regularly, throughout the year, it has the potential to become part of your family's identity.
- Affordable — Hobbies range in price and there are family activities that fit the range of family budgets. Though the gear available for serious hikers can run into serious money, getting started required little more than some boots (we got ours on sale for around $35), a map and some water bottles. Most of what we take on the trail we already had lying around the house. Whatever activity you decide on, be sure it's not beyond your means to keep doing it. Although we plan to add skiing to our lives when the kids are older, we know we'll need to increase the activities budget to do so.
- Make it fun — Encouraging a four year old to keep going to the end of a 2-mile hike can be a chore. But when he knows there's a root beer float waiting for him at the end of the trail he's more likely to embrace the challenge. And when his little legs get tired and he starts begging for someone to carry him, we often divert his attention by singing songs or practicing his letters ("What does apple start with?", "How about baseball?", etc.)
When the kids get older and a root beer float and the alphabet song no longer motivate, the promise of a parent-sponsored outing — doing something they've grown to love — may be enough to keep the otherwise disengaged teens involved in family life.
It's turns out it is possible to learn something new and actually enjoy it. Doing it for the benefit of your kids, both now and in the future, is great motivation.
What's So Great About Hiking
Getting out in nature was never habitual till we had kids. Now that we've been doing it, we realize outdoor physical activities are loaded with benefits.
- Directed activity — It takes a good two or three hours from the time we load up the Jeep and head out, till the time we lift our sleepy hikers from their car seats. That's three hours of directed activity where the kids are focused on something, excited and generally not bored and whiney.
- Hikes and long walks — occupy the kids' attention more than just running around the house. They're a lot more likely to let us carry on uninterrupted conversations. We do some of our best connecting as a couple during family outings.
- Guilt-free chocolate — They say Snickers are among the best trail snacks. Who wouldn't love a reason to eat some favorite high-energy snacks, knowing the exercise involved will burn those calories?!
- Thrill of discovery — There's something new and innocent about a child discovering God's creation for the first time. A new bird, a bubbling stream, an elusive butterfly, all these and more provide lots of oohs and ahhs on the trail while instilling a respect for nature.
- Confidence boost — Realizing "they can do it" is a big deal for little ones. Each step taken over rough terrain, each trail completed, even the occasional scraped knee can build self-esteem in kids.