There have been moments when I get to sit back and watch the kids gather on the trampoline or run around out front in the dark, and I know in that moment I’m witnessing the creation of memories they will reflect on as adults.
I’m witnessing their childhood memories develop. In real time. It is a very cool, very sacred thing.
It’s one of the reasons Ron and I so vigorously support outdoor play and exploration. But there are so many more reasons, beyond that. And they kind of snowball, pretty quickly, when you think about them.
Why outside? Why is it important for kids? Why should they explore and feel comfortable outdoors and learn how to find their own way? Because it lays a foundation for so many things. So. Many. Things.
The outdoors will always be there for them. Always. No matter where they are. What shape they are in. Where their heads are at. Their age. Regardless of any variable – short of nuclear war or the apocalypse – it will be there. It was there for me when I needed to be free. It was right there, right outside my doorstep, when I just needed to run. And hike. And explore. It was waiting for me with a loyalty that rivals that of any dog.
The outdoors will always teach them something. They will never reach the end of knowledge outside, just like they’ll never reach the end of the Internet. It just won’t happen. There will always be a bug or an animal or a strange rock or a geological feature that they will discover while outside – no matter how old they are. We see it every time we go out. The outdoors is a constantly available textbook about the planet. Think about the stars – scientists say there are 10,000 stars for every grain of sand on the planet. Wrap your head around that, and think of the things you could learn outside at night.
The outdoors will always challenge them. Even if they take the hardest trail, the one that is littered with boulders and steep inclines and the skinniest of handholds, and master it – different conditions could challenge them even more the next time out. There is always another level outside. A hotter, wetter, steeper, longer, drier, colder or more remote way to do something. The challenges are endless.
The outdoors never requires tech support. You never actually need a plug, or a console or batteries or a password. You just don’t. That’s not to say that the outdoors is not high-tech, because they are. Gear can be incredibly high tech, especially given the latest editions of solar-powered equipment that is available. But it’s not required. You could use a battery-powered headlamp, or you could build a fire. There’s always an option. And kids should know both. And understand that tech isn’t the end all to entertainment.
The outdoors can be free. Sure, there may be modest admission fees for parks and campsites, but if they wanted to go outside right this minute, they can for free. They can access it without needing an account number. They don’t need to update an app. They don’t need to have the newest download in order to enjoy it. They can just do it. They just need shoes. And sometimes they don’t even need that.
The outdoors doesn’t create a generational gap. This is a tough one to explain. Tech creates a generational gap. Think of the rate of adaptation of smartphones or social apps across generations. Think of how my kids didn’t know what a phone book was. Or how, as parents, we are clueless about Fortnite or WhatsApp or whatever other app will come along tomorrow. A forest today will be a forest tomorrow (if we don’t cut it down). Elements of the outdoors will always be elements of the outdoors that can be understood across generations. The outdoors is a generational equalizer.
The outdoors will never disappoint them. A creek they love will never be involved in a scandal. A trail they love with never get traded to another team. A mountain will never lie to them. The outdoors, compared to pop culture and greater society, is reliable. It will not disappoint them. It will not let them down. It will not ever bend to social pressure or do something outrageous that doesn’t align with their own moral standards. It will never get arrested or post a wildly inappropriate social media video or shoplift. The outdoors is this pure thing that is a constant for them in a world that changes every minute.
The outdoors will be there for them today, tomorrow and years down the road. It will be there for their kids, especially if they learn to understand that they need to protect it – and that’s one of the biggest reasons that they need to be outside. They need to connect with it now, because they won’t understand all of the other reasons that they need the outdoors until they are much older, until life has given them a few sucker-punches.
Living breeds understanding breeds living. It’s a cool, rewarding cycle that spurs awakenings. They need as much life experience outdoors as possible.
So, that’s why outside, for us.