These school holidays we will be spending a lot of time at home, instead of our usual road trip north. During winter, the warmth of the house and the slow pace of holiday mornings mean that it is easy to get lulled into the stay-indoors trap. With four children at home, however, it doesn’t take long for cosy mornings by the fire to devolve into a scene of outright devastation, and I know the only answer is to get us all outside, whatever the weather. We all take a bit more encouragement at this time of year, especially when it remains close to freezing all day.
With this in mind, these holidays I set the kids a ‘Winter Adventure Challenge’ as an incentive to get us out and moving every day.
Adventures come in all shapes and sizes. Depending on the ages of your children, an adventure might be something as simple as letting them walk by themselves to visit a neighbour, a ride on a nearby bike track, having a picnic in a secret spot in the garden, or going on a night walk by torchlight. They don’t have to be complex undertakings at all. Finding adventure activities all around you, and in your local area, is a great reminder of how the simple things are often the best when it comes to keeping kids happy. Even an ordinary activity can become an adventure to children if you pitch it right.
At the beginning of the holidays I made a rough list in my head of the various activities available close by – ranging from trails in national parks in our area, to bike rides, to walks around our place. The list was entirely flexible – able to be adapted according to weather, inclination or other variables. And apart from a few trail treats for energy boosters, and the fuel required to drive to a national park or two, not one of these activities cost a cent.
What do you need for a Winter Adventure Challenge?
1. A sense of fun. The kids will only enjoy it if you are too – climbing and exploring and pumping the bike jumps to get some air – along with them.
2. Backpacks/hydration packs. Our kids recently received their own hydration pack, so that they can drink plenty of water (and they really do drink a lot more water this way), carry their own snacks, plus (in the case of the older boys) a bit of their own gear. Any backpack will do the trick, and carrying their own stuff encourages them to develop independence and be more responsible for themselves. It appears that carrying one’s own chocolate (instead of mum or dad being in possession) is a great motivator when little people get tired on the trail.
3. Adventure Challenge chart. I made a simple chart so that the kids could record the various adventuring we did throughout the holidays including the total number of kilometres we hiked, or skied, or biked etc.
4. Spare clothes. On our first day we mountain biked then walked a few kilometres down to a large dam on a neighbouring property. I made the mistake of not taking spare clothes, thinking that due to the fact that there was still ice on top of the water, no one was likely to be going for a dip. Not so – within a short time shoes were wet, socks were sodden, and various little people had stripped down to their underwear to paddle in the shallow, but freezing creek. I should know better: NEVER leave home without some basic spare clothes, especially in Winter when wet clothes can be a disaster.
5. Maps. Going for a hike in the bush or even a walk in town is a great opportunity for kids to learn some basic navigation. Kids of all ages respond really quickly to visual representations of their journey. Topographic maps are great for teaching more detailed map reading skills and navigation, but even a google map print-off will help them learn to recognise and interpret spatial and geographic information. Maps (and possibly a compass) also enhance that sense of adventure: never underestimate the value of tools such as these (even if they are sometimes just symbolic) to encourage kids to want to learn.
6. Curiosity. Foster your children’s interest in the natural world by giving them the time and space to stop to explore both the sensory and the physical world around them. Get off the trail and check out whatever sparks their interest: follow creeks upstream, looks at tracks in the sand, listen for birds, collect gumnuts and leaves and feathers, marvel at the sound ice makes when you skim it across a frozen dam – the possibilities are endless.
So far during our Winter Adventure Challenge we have mountain biked, hiked two trails in national parks, climbed plenty of boulders, explored a gorge, and whilst walking home got caught in a dramatic storm that blew in out of nowhere over the mountains. In seconds we were in a blizzard and by the time we got home our hair and eyelashes were encrusted with snow, and our hands were icicles. In spite of the painful cold and whipping snow, we were all hooting and shrieking with excitement. A winter adventure of the kind that childhood memories are made of.