Even as a little girl I loved adventures and never minded getting muddy. Growing up on a small farm, I had lots of open space for choosing adventures – from riding down a grassy hill on my banana-seat bike and climbing a stack of hay bales to feeding cows and catching tadpoles. My fondest childhood memories are nature and recreation experiences – playing with my dogs, camping with my family, observing alpenglow on Mt. Rainier from my backyard. Now I get to plan outdoor adventures with my son and daughter. As they grow older, we venture further from home with our bikes, trekking poles and camping gear, and parenting outdoors gets easier in some respects – instead of diapers, we now pack more gear. At nearly 6 and 4 years old, my children are independent, confident hikers and bikers. As they continue to grow older and bigger and further develop their skills, our adventure options only expand.

But all this adventure planning and doing can be exhausting and frustrating. On some camping trips, my kids get grumpy and start fighting each other and don’t follow directions, and my husband and I wish we were anywhere but in the woods without access to television, a box of toys and private bedrooms. Sometimes while on family bike rides, one kid will whine most of the way or have to go to the bathroom miles down a trail after refusing to use the facilities at the trailhead. We’ve eaten breakfasts and dinners in our tent to escape aggressive bees. I’ve mistakenly left a kid’s underwear at home for a week-long camping trip. I may have even said, in exasperation, “We are never going camping again.” In fact, most days of the week, my kids and I aren’t blissfully hiking trails and catching butterflies in the wilderness. It’s tempting to let my kids binge-watch PBS and call it good. Super Mom is a myth I’ve stopped chasing.

Recently, a sunny afternoon inspired me to take my son and daughter on an exploration near the Spokane River. Along with our dog, we started at People’s Park, crossed Sandifur Bridge and followed the trail to where it intersects with the Centennial Trail. We came upon a rock pile and my kids immediately starting climbing all over it, finding “cool rocks” and telling stories – about how one looked like a volcano rock and another like a dinosaur rock with a fossil texture. I didn’t need to craft some game to engage their interest. I didn’t need to hover nearby to ensure their safety or tell them where to walk or what to touch. All I had to do was be present with them. And I realized two things: a simple adventure is better than none at all, and my kids were already nature explorers. Over the years, through our shared experiences at parks, in forests and on trails, they had acquired adventurous spirits and became “nature kids.” The process, still ongoing, is easier than I ever imagined it to be.

I may not be able to give my kids a farm and endless time to play on acres of land, but I can help create just as meaningful outdoor memories. Spending time together in nature strengthens family bonds and helps them appreciate their own curiosity, physical strength and capabilities as they practice courage and creativity. 20 years from now, when my children reminisce about growing up, I hope our family’s outdoor adventures are their treasured highlights – where they learned to be more brave, helpful, kind, grateful and loving while trying new things, getting muddy and overcoming challenges.

I’m still learning how to cultivate and guide my outdoor family. With each attempt, while practicing patience and grace, our adventures get easier. Foremost, I try to remember that my children simply need my undivided attention and love. Time spent in nature with children is never wasted. You don’t have to know how to pitch a tent, own name-brand gear or plan epic adventures – you simply need to have fun outside, playing and exploring together as a family. //