WON Landing Page March 2022

Tuff Kids: What is the correct age to introduce your children to the outdoors?

What is the right age to introduce children to the outdoors or take them on a fishing or hunting trip? Alaska-born Becky Schwanke, who launched Tuff Kids Outdoors last March, started her journey of being an outdoors lover early, being taken along on hunts with her parents. She took her son on his first moose hunt when he was just 8-months old. “If we can introduce the natural world to our children when they are small, they will perpetually be fascinated by all the amazing interactions and experiences that being outdoors has to offer,” said Becky, “Sunshine, rain, wind, snow, it’s all part of recreating outside and there should be no fear in taking your kids on outings from day one.”

I first met Becky while working on a book project featuring women hunters in Alaska. Not having children of my own, or an expectation of what true accounts would emerge from the interviews, I became most surprised by the stories of women who took their young children on big-game hunts. It wasn’t just a great way to pass on the lessons these women had learned from their own childhoods spent in the outdoors, the stories revealed a powerful intersection between motherhood and hunting. Becky’s views, in particular, made me realize that, for the female hunter, there is no greater joy than being able to share life at its fullest with a child who is watching, participating and questioning.

The author with one of her “kids,” her hunting dog! (Steve Meyer photo)

I excitedly talked to Becky, again, a year after the book’s publication. She had retired from her career as a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to focus on what had become her true passion in life — helping kids and families get outdoors. Becky discovered while taking her son and as many as 4 other children at a time, that there are a few key tricks that can turn what would have been a miserable trip into a treasured memory. The most important lesson she has learned is the best way to assure children are comfortable in the outdoors is to take them at an early age.

“When parents wait until their kids are 4 to 5 to take them out, they often have trouble getting them to feel comfortable in a tent and the bedtime routine is punishing,” said Becky, “ If parents wait until their kids are 8 to 10 to take them out, they often have trouble with the kids wanting to get back to the comfort of their clean house, their close social circles, back to constant contact, back to their daily routines.” Early trips are a great introduction to how the environment around an infant can stimulate a relationship with nature and foster the imagination.

Becky recommends starting with a trip that the mom is comfortable making. If the mom is miserable or panics, the kids follow suit. For the novice, she suggests selecting a great weather window. “Summer is certainly the best time to start,” said Becky. The family can go to public use area to have a picnic, and public hiking trails offer a great place to explore. A supportive co-parent and the involvement of other kids and family members make trips even more fun. “Before they know it, the kids will be blazing their own trails through alder patches and up mountainsides, no trails needed!” said Becky.

In planning the activity, she advises parents make sure to have all the essentials: food, drinks, medications and favorite toys. The list of things to consider includes bug spray, bug shirts, extra clothes (always bring extra clothes if there’s water involved), windbreakers, a toilet paper kit (check out Becky’s article Kids Learn to Leave No Trace), fun activities such as a Frisbee or kite, fire starting accessories and s’more ingredients. “Day trips can wear a kid out, and you know you’ve succeeded when they’re sound asleep in the car on the drive home,” said Becky.

After accomplishing a successful day trip, parents should consider an overnight trip. State and federal campgrounds are a safe place to start. “The first step to a positive outdoor experience is making sure everyone stays warm (or cool), dry and safe,” said Becky. Watching children grow courage and curiosity to explore is fun for the whole family. “My #1 goal is to help get more kids outdoors.” That is what Tuff Kids Outdoors is really about.

Her favorite outdoor products are ones that keep youngsters dry. “Getting wet and cold is the fastest way to assure your kid never wants to go out again. The most affordable insurance for little ones is the Dry-Tyke 1-piece rain suit ($49.99) from Oakiwear. Little girls can go camping in tights and a tutu if they want, as long as they have a rain suit along to keep the dirt and the weather on the outside. Another great line of products is the Big Agnes kids’ sleeping bags ($99.95). When kids have a sleeping bag that fits, they can get warm quickly, and they can sleep comfortably. It is imperative to make sure kids have good overnight experiences when out camping,” said Becky.

Outdoor kids are happy, healthy and take pride in themselves and their environment. They’re Tuff Kids because they have tough moms like Becky, who do what it takes to foster a love of the outdoors and raise a new generation to appreciate and sustain our wild resources for future generations.

  • About Christine Cunningham

    Christine Cunningham is a lifelong Alaskan, author and outdoor columnist known for her contributions to outdoor magazines and her commitment to creating opportunities for women to connect and share their stories. Her first book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” profiles some of Alaska’s most outstanding female hunters.