5 Tips for Bringing Your Family Outdoors from TeachPlayLearn

This August, Shoestring Adventures is offering a very special family camping trip in Mammoth Lakes, CA.

We are proud to partner with Jennifer Zehenni, founder of TeachPlayLearn, to create a fun, educational experience for the kids. TeachPlayLearn is a boutique educational services company in Los Angeles, dedicated to serving lifelong learners of all ages.

In preparation for our upcoming trip, Jennifer shares some tips and truths for introducing your family to the outdoors.

1. “Outdoorsy” has many different looks.

There are many activities out there for all points on the outdoor adventure spectrum whether glamping, a  scavenger hunt, turning a trail guide into an epic game of eye spy, or even keeping it simple with a creative dinner outdoors. For example, my family and I have started a tradition called pirate dinner. We turn the backyard into a picnic wonderland, cook foods we can only eat with our hands, and sprawl it out for the taking. Yarrr. There are no plates, there are no rules. Just enjoy a crazy meal outside together full of laughter. Last time, we created a pirate ship out of a loaf of bread with an impromptu pirate flag made of a paper towel and lipstick. Bonus, there’s barely any clean-up! Compliment this experience with an engaging book on pirates from the library while you digest. Our hands-on favorite, Pirates by John Matthews.

So whether you’re “more of a family beach day type” or “wild horses couldn’t keep me and my family away from backpacking type,” all of it is beautiful. Embrace wherever you are on the great outdoors gradient. It’s the enthusiasm and curiosity that’s contagious and the memory made together that leaves an unforgettable imprint.

2. Little eyes are always watching.

Human beings are sponges by nature (no pun intended), especially the little guys. It’s up to us, their village, to model the heart and know-how of environmental stewardship. A great way to kickstart this meaningful discussion is through a family read aloud on the topic. If you haven’t already, educating kids on the 7 principles of Leave No Trace is a natural follow up. One suggestion we received was getting creative with it by turning these principles into a family art piece, like a painting or collage. Then most importantly, get outside and let the kiddos explore wild and free. It’s their chance to synthesize all their new knowledge. Activities have their place, but research has shown wild play is when the deeper connection to nature really forms and kids’ other skill sets develop at lightning speeds as well.

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3. There are teachable moments everywhere.

Some intentional, some accidental. It’s amazing what learning occurs when you keep your eyes open for both and seize the moment. Imagination, exploration, discovery is part of the joy of being outside. Remember the days of mud pies? Still in them? Me too. But as a little girl, not only did I have a blast, I ended up learning a lot about the surrounding ecosystem from that mud pie. One adventure that never misses is a night hike. That magical transition from sunset to evening is a stunning time. Grab the fam, some paper, markers, and each person find your own special spot solo. On the forest floor, in a tree, draped over a rock, whatever calls to you. Then get comfy and listen. Be still for awhile silently observing the liveliness around you. When you’re ready start writing or drawing what you see, hear, smell, questions that pop up, whatever it makes you think of. Stream of consciousness style. Regroup the family around a campfire and share your moments together. It’s a great initial lesson plan.

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4. Being prepared makes all the difference.

One universal truth that kept popping up is when you travel as a family, having prepared adequately makes for a MUCH smoother weekend. I highly recommend this packing list as a starting point. This mama has an organized plan for everything and printable checklists too. (Side note, speaking of teachable moments — why not get the kids involved in the planning? Besides building the anticipation, weather, maps, and scheduling can all be meaningful educational experiences too).

Once you’re there sometimes the thrill of playing in and out of tents is just too great and embracing the dirt is inevitable. As e.e. cummings says, “the world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.” However, creating a separate activities section can help keeps things simple. Additionally, if there’s an upset tummy or weather interrupting the adventuring itinerary, having a few activities at basecamp is a fun way to spend low key time together. Some suggestions to keep up your sleeve: glow stick ring toss at night, board games, arts and crafts, or puzzles (extra points if they’re nature themed).

5. Kids won’t remember their best day of television.

But they will remember huddling with their family making s’mores under a starry night sky. Taking kids outdoors sounds simple, but our barely-look-up-from-their-screens-for-dinner generation isn’t as connected to this fundamental human experience as one would think. Even if your home-base isn’t a city, our high-tech lifestyle finds a way to creep in at all ages. So make a family pact to unplug and… just. be. together.

Whether on the go or as a wind down at the end of the day, a great togetherness activity is telling a chain story. The first person opens with a simple sentence, the next person takes the story from there contributing their own sentence and so on. This circles around the group until your amazingly awesome (and often hilariously random) story is done. Need some inspiration? Here are some creative prompts to get you started. To get more than one person involved at a time, combine it with a game of improv charades where one or all people act the sentences out as the story is being told.

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Photos © 2015 Alyx Schwarz

The recommendations and links in this post are not affiliates of TPL. We just found them to be useful resources and thought you might too.



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