Raising A Kid as an Outdoor Family

Learning from those farther along their parenting journey can inspire and encourage the less-experienced among us. Jonathan Johnson and Amy Howko, from Cheney, Wash., have appreciable insights after raising their daughter, Anya, now 17 years old.

OTO: What values and attitudes about outdoor recreation and travel did you prioritize and emphasize once you became parents?

JJ: I’m a big believer that you parent best from your own true, best self. So when Anya came along, I wanted share with her the outdoor things I loved. Some had to go. I chose to give up mountaineering for economic and safety reasons, but instead I taught her to top-rope rock climb and took her to Yellowstone to watch wolves.

OTO: What have you learned from your family’s many outdoor adventures?

AH: I think Anya actually first learned empathy when we went into wild places and talked about how animals live there—how they eat, struggle, and play there, and how we can help keep their environment safe for them. She loved to think and talk about how the animals lived in the environments we visited.

Photo of Anya & Jonathan on a hiking trail in Scotland.
Anya & Jonathan hiking in the Scottish Highlands. // Photo courtesy of Amy Howko

OTO: What have been the greatest rewards from being an Outdoor Family?

AH: Anya now has her own relationship to the natural world. When she’s feeling stressed, she often goes out to the Turnbull Wildlife Refuge. When her friends are stressed, she even takes them there.

JJ: Wherever she goes and whatever she does, she can go outside and feel comforted and at home in the world. That’s incredibly comforting for me as she gets older and talks about going off to college…Our daughter also gets a love of outdoors from grandparents, a poetic outlook on passing geese from my mom, a love of meditative walks from my dad, an athletic vigor and enthusiasm from Amy’s mom, and a passion for knowledge and understanding of nature—and fishing!—from Amy’s dad. A life in the environment has deep family roots for us.

OTO: How did your family’s travel and outdoor recreation interests and decisions change as Anya became older?

JJ: Letting Anya take her share of the lead has resulted in some of our best adventures. It had never before occurred to either of us to travel to Japan and do things like snorkel on coral reefs off the coast of Tokashiki Island.

AH: When she was little, I really wanted her to learn to downhill ski, but she said she’d prefer to snowboard. So we followed her lead, and to this day, snowboarding is one of her favorite outdoor activities. And we all get to go to the mountains together, as I’d dreamed.

JJ: The first place we ever brought Anya home to was the tiny, secluded log cabin Amy and I built in northern Idaho during summer vacations when we were in college. No electricity, no running water. We heated water for her baths on the wood stove. It was an exquisite few years. Now she’s grown into a high school senior who loves big, East Coast cities and wants to go to college in one and someday be a diplomat and work in world capitals. But that’s the beauty of parenting, isn’t it? You show your kids what you love. But kids are their own people, with their own senses of things. Pretty soon they start to show the world to you!… But most of all you have to remember, we don’t get the days back. When you have a family and you watch your kids get older, that feels more true and urgent than ever. //

Amy S. McCaffree is Special Section Editor and the Out There Kids columnist. She wrote about recommended reading for outdoor families last issue.

Feature photo: North Idaho cabin home. // Courtesy of Amy Howko

Originally published in the March 2018 print edition of Out There Outdoors under the title “Journey of an Outdoor Family.”

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