By Michael Lanza

As my 14-year-old son, Nate, and I paddled our kayaks toward one of the class III rapids on the Payette River in southwest Idaho, I suggested he run it ahead of me: My son’s knowledge of the Payette’s rapids, and skill at paddling them, both outstrip mine. He grinned at me and responded, “Don’t worry. I wouldn’t let you go in first.”

Great sense of humor, that kid of mine.

Nate has been taking whitewater kayaking lessons for three straight summers, and has gotten pretty good at a sport at which I’ve yet to acquire much skill. (While I’ve paddled inflatable kayaks in whitewater, I’ve long preferred outdoor activities that are grounded in earth, like hiking, backpacking, climbing, and skiing.) Now, after many years of me introducing him and his younger sister, Alex (in photo at top of story, from a family backpacking trip in Sequoia National Park), to the activities my wife and I enjoy, the tables are turning: He’s getting me into whitewater kayaking. And it’s an absolute blast—the kayaking itself, of course, but also sharing with him this outdoor sport that he first embraced, and learning from him.

Sure, raising your children to love the outdoors is good for them in many ways both measurable and intangible. But eventually, they’ll reach an age where you may begin to reap the dividends of all those days spent hiking at a toddler’s pace and carrying ungodly loads backpacking with young kids: Your teen or ‘tweener just might expand your repertoire of outdoor skills—making your life that much richer, perhaps at an age when you didn’t expect to start, say, hurling yourself into whitewater rapids.

Now the question is how much longer I’ll be able to keep up with them.

I’m no authority on how to raise children to love the outdoors, and all kids are different. But our kids, now 14 and almost 12, love our many family backpacking, hiking, paddling, skiing, and climbing trips, and I think it boils down to starting them very young and always making it fun for them.

See the photo gallery below of pictures from some of our family adventures of recent years. Then check out my enormously popular story “10 Tips For Raising Outdoors-Loving Kids,” which has over 11,000 Facebook likes and offers some insights that I’ve learned over the years.

 

You may also like my stories “Boy Trip, Girl Trip: Why I Take Father-Son and Father-Daughter Adventures,” “10 Tips For Keeping Kids Happy and Safe Outdoors,” “My Top 10 Family Adventures,” and “5 Tricks For Getting Tired Kids Through a Hike.” Plus, see a menu of all of my stories about Family Adventures at The Big Outside.

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