My goal here is to issue a plea to parents, teachers, grandparents, caregivers and anyone else who has a say in how children spend their time. Get them outside. Please. The joy of being outside with your children is difficult to describe, but it's possible to summarize in a look or a sound. A month ago, I took my son's Cub group on a hike. I knew where we were going, so everyone had to follow me. This meant that I got to arrive first and take in the looks on the kids faces as they approached the canyon we were going to follow. The look can be summarized as a sudden stop in forward momentum, followed by a significant widening of the eyes and opening of the mouth. The sound? Simple. "That is SO COOOOOOOOOOOOL!"
The canyon you see in the picture above is, possibly, my favorite place on the planet. I've taken hundreds of students there. I camped at the edge of this river on my honeymoon. I have fallen off rocks, scraped my arms, and fished this canyon with my children, my best friends and even my mother-in-law. Every time I go there, I feel connected to our world in a way that is really difficult to explain in words. You have to FEEL it.
Feeling is a powerful thing for me. I grew up hiking with my parents. As I got older, the hikes got longer and more involved. Some of the greatest memories I have are of hiking with my dad and my best friend. Each summer, we took on a different "classic" - West Coast Trail, Chilkoot Trail, Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, Skoki Valley, the Skyline Trail. It was on the Skyline that I experienced one of the most powerful feelings I know - the feeling of climbing a mountain. It was not a huge peak, but it was a peak and the minute I arrived at the top, I literally felt like I was on top of the world.
This morning, I took my son and his best friends to the top of a mountain. For years, my boy called this place "Radio Tower Mountain" and I know that he has wanted to go up there from the first time he saw it. So, for his birthday, we made the trek west to accomplish this goal. Last night, as we looked up at the mountain, I know that the boys really didn't understand what they were about to do. "We're going up there? Cool." My son has been to the top of other mountains, so he knew what we were in for, but the other boys had no clue.
As we climbed and climbed and climbed, I didn't hear a word of complaint. Every time the views opened up, one of my son's friends would say something like "This is so cool" or "Wow" or "This is beautiful" or "This is amazing". I can't help myself - I just love hearing those reactions and seeing the looks on their faces. It's a look that I've seen when we visit canyons, waterfalls, hoodoos, geysers, tide pools, the ocean, the Badlands, petroglyphs and yes, even Disneyland. These are looks of light, of learning, or sheer joy.
Have you really looked at a child playing a video game? All I see is grim determination, blank stares and frustration when the quest of the next level is thwarted. It's a shocking contrast to the look of a child who has caught a fish, skied their first black diamond run, jumped off a boat in the middle of a lake, climbed a rock face or finished a difficult bike ride.
I know which look I prefer. Even better, I know that I have directly caused those amazing looks on the faces of children.