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5 Tips to turn your kid into an outdoor explorer

Molly Cerreta Smith loves writing about all things mommy, parenting, food, health and travel. When she's not staring into the face of her Mac, she loves to hike, read, do messy crafts with her kids and compete in BBQ competitions with he...

Raise a nature lover

If you want your child to love the great outdoors, introduce him to it. Parents are naturally their kids' role models, so lead by example and create outdoor adventures for your children.

1. Introduce them to stuff they've never seen on the internet

Kids these days have seen it all, thanks to YouTube. Well, so they think. Maybe it's about time to shut off the computer, tablet or video game of choice and have a real adventure, instead of watching one online. Take them to a wildlife refuge to learn about endangered species or sign them up for one of the interactive camp programs that your local zoo or aquatics center may have available for kids. Interactive education is one of the coolest ways to get kids really interested in the creatures in nature — whether in your own backyard or thousands of miles away.

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2. Don't treat them like they are breakable

If, while on a hike, you're hovering around your child like he's a bubble that will pop if he comes in contact with nearly any surface, he might sense your fear and become trepidacious of such adventuresome nature walks. Choose a child-friendly hiking trail that is appropriate for your child's age and ability and when your child falls down or trips (yes, it will probably happen at some point), don't panic. Make sure he's okay and encourage him to forge ahead.

In that same vein, remember that kids are washable. They may splash in some mud while traversing a forest trail (my son refers to these moments as "mud joy") or bury themselves with piles of sand during a day at the beach. Just think of it as their way of communing with nature and learning to appreciate the great outdoors — and make sure they wash all their crevices really well after their dirty play.

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3. Take them off the beaten path

Taking your kids to children's museums and amusement parks is all fun and well — for them. But raising a true outdoorsman (or woman, let's not forget) requires you to lead them off the beaten path every now and then. Instead of your typical swimming-at-the-hotel-pool vacation, why not plan a camping trip with activities like rafting, kayaking or fishing. If you're not skilled at these activities yourself yet, hire a guide or book a group outing until you get your feet wet, so to speak.

4. Introduce them to your outdoorsy hobby

My husband and I have been competing in BBQ competitions for nearly five years, which essentially involves camping overnight at various locations around the Southwest and cooking all night long to serve to judges the following day. My daughter was just 2 months old at our first competition; my son was 4. Now he's 6 and old enough to participate in Kids' Q competitions. He has even won a few trophies of his own, and loves cooking outdoors with his father. Whether your hobby is mountain biking or archery, there is an opportunity to teach your children about it, including the safety rules, at nearly any age.

5. Get them out of their gender-assigned "boxes"

My dad had two daughters. As the younger one, I became his fishing and hunting buddy because my sister wouldn't have anything to do with getting up long before the sun came up and trudging through mud to find the perfect spot for a duck blind. I didn't mind a bit.

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My dad and I took many solo trips fishing and hunting, where I learned to bait a hook, load a gun and even smoke a cigar (for pretend). To this day, I love camping and getting out into nature and showing my children all the fun that can happen when you turn off the TV and step outside (and kick down those gender role stereotypes).

More on family fun outdoors

Weekend trip ideas kids and parents can enjoy
10 Amazing places if you love the great outdoors
7 Family fun ideas in the great outdoors

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