I’ve learnt through trial and error, that the best way to approach going outside with young children is to have a zero expectations mentality. Whether you are just walking down to the local playground or heading to the ski hill, placing zero expectations on your outdoor excursions is your best bet for a good time.
So what does having zero expectations mean? It means that yes it’s okay to have a goal in mind when heading outside, but be open to this goal changing or never being met. There have been numerous times we have gone for walks or hikes, and only made it part way due to a very curious toddler who stops every five seconds to look at something, or a baby who is screaming his head off. Or the times we’ve packed everyone up to go to the ski hill and the toddler decides today he will in fact only do one run and then he’s done. By having a goal in mind, but also being open to the fact that this goal can change or disappear altogether, you won’t feel like you haven’t accomplished anything. Nor will you feel the need to pressure your children into meeting the expectations you set of what you wanted to do outside. You got your children outdoors and you had fun! Really at this age that’s all that matters- opening up their minds to the endless possibilities nature has to offer. Children are unpredictable and their moods come and go, so having an open mind when outside will help everyone have a good time, and make it as stress free as possible.
Sometimes getting children outside can be a lot of work. There’s bags to pack with snacks and all other necessities, appropriate clothing to be put on, the right gear to bring depending on what you are doing, and naps and meal times to take into the equation. It’s no wonder that after all this effort it can be a little frustrating when your child decides they actually don’t want to be outside. The best thing you can do in these situations is not to project on them how you’re feeling, or think about how much effort you had to go through to get them outside- a child can’t comprehend that. Just stay calm and remember that it’s all about having fun, and not placing your expectations onto your child. It’s okay to gently encourage your child when they are having a hard time outside, validate their feelings, listen to what they are telling you, make it playful again, and if you feel you can continue on outside then carry on. There have been many times both boys have melted down outside, but after some talking and listening they are both fine to continue on and have stayed outside for hours afterwards.
So if you want your outdoor experiences with young children to be good ones, not stressful ones, I suggest instead of having great expectations have zero. Does this mean that you will be immune to the frustrations that come with getting children outside and adventuring? No it does not, but it means that in the tough moments you can remember there are no expectations you should be meeting, instead all you need to do is go with the flow, be flexible, and follow your child’s lead (they always seem to know exactly what brings them joy outside).