One of my life goals is to have an active lifestyle. This takes many forms for me: elite distance running, backpacking, hiking, rock climbing. Corollary to that active lifestyle goal is to raise my family in an active manner. For me, one of my main parenting goals is to raise my children so they are comfortable and capable in many activities and environments.
This is a pretty broad goal, which is intentional. I actually might rephrase it to a life ‘theme.’ Why a theme instead of an exact goal? For starters, I may light up and become giddy at the thought of long run, my husband is more likely to be excited about blasting down tree-filled ski chutes, my elder daughter is excited about the climbing gym, while the younger one just wants to “fish” (swirl sticks) in any body of water. All of these check the box on an active lifestyle, none of them is necessarily more “truly” active than the other.
As parents, it is sometimes intimidating to have so many potential activities (ballet! Ninja gym! Soccer! Hiking!) to choose from for appropriate activities. My husband and I have settled on some basic goals for childhood activities: those that promote body awareness and function, and those that grow life skills. For us right now, that means we include dance (body awareness) and swimming (life skill), with a short stint of soccer (team skills + parental comic relief) for the first time this year.
I am under no delusion that my children will become competitive dancers, swimmers, or soccer players because I enrolled them in dance at 4 years old. However, I do firmly believe that the fundamental skills they learn in these organized forms of sport will translate into their future active lifestyles and, just as importantly, their confidence in approaching a new activity – be it physical or professional or personal, next week — or in a few decades.
One of the biggest steps I take when bringing my kids into an activity is looking for microgoals for them. No, I don’t use the term ‘microgoal’ with my preschooler. However, I do work to frame the activities that I find enjoyable in a kid context. These small steps also make the reason we’re out more relevant to their daily life, developmental stage, and play.
For example, my husband’s climbing partner and his son would always show up at the gym armed with lego figures. His son went one day from loving climbing to being terrified (not uncommon for kids). Both men knew it was a good idea to keep climbing, however, “conquer your fear” is also a bit heady for a 5 year old. To reframe ‘climb up the wall’ in a kid-friendly way, my husband snagged one of the lego figures, had the lego man “climb” up the wall until he got “stuck.” Then, the Lego man called the kids’ names plaintively telling them he was stranded and needed their help; it was the kids’ job to “rescue” the lego man. Lego rescue quickly became the favorite part of climbing, with the two 5 year olds racing up the wall to the rescue of the figurine without a second thought.
Framing an activity you love in a way that resonates with kids (or even adults, too!) can take some creative thinking. While I might intrinsically know that a hike in the woods calms and inspires me, my kiddos might see no point in ‘just walking on the trail’ when they could instead be climbing a tree or boulder near the trailhead. We most often blend activity perspectives: let’s walk a bit (mom) to a special climbing tree (kids), or let’s snowshoe this funny-shaped loop (mom) and then spend most of our afternoon sledding (kids). Having a little of both shows the myriad of potential ways to be ‘active.’ It also pushes my kids to test themselves in terms of patience, planning, and enjoyment with the outing. I also am able to enjoy an activity in a whole new way: through the eyes of my young daughters.
Sometimes I miss the full-body exhaustion of an all-day 15 mile hike when instead I have meandered, hobbit-style, a mile or so with breaks for second breakfast, elevensies, lunch, and tea; however, I know that in only a few years, my daughters will be blazing through those 15 mile lunches, taking “scenic rest stops” just so I can catch up. Onward to a lifetime of outdoor adventuring together!
I’ll be exploring this theme in upcoming posts. Have any favorite active parents? I’d love to know them, and please share this post and comment below!