Outdoor Gifts for the Little and Big Kids in Your Life!

If you want to buy fewer toys and enable more adventure, here are 12 outdoor gifts for the kids of all ages in your life.

Outdoor Gifts for the Little and Big Kids in Your Life! (Photo: White child in a hat with moose antlers, Who Pooped in the Park? book cover, plastic bug light, water bottle, children's bike, and Camp game display(

“We are not buying a whole bunch of toys for Christmas,” I said to my husband last year. In fact, that’s pretty much what I say every year. We’re not always successful, but generally try to focus on gifts that support our values of simplicity and adventure. Outdoors gear does both while also getting our kids more excited than ever about going out in what can be frigid weather in our area.

Adding some of these gifts to your kids’ (or your own) Christmas lists can help winter feel more fun and spring feel closer than ever. Here’s gifts that are great for our three favorite outdoors activities: hiking, biking, and camping.

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How To Stay Sane When You Travel With Kids

How to Stay Sane When You Travel With Kids. (Photo of white mom holding a blond baby on her shoulders, walking down a path with trees.)

2014: Holding my one-year-old, I stared up at fireworks and started belting out Let It Go. Tears streamed down my face. It was the end of a week-long trip to Walt Disney World, during which I spent most of the time imagining my kid getting trampled. Earlier that week, my hands shook and mind went blank in the Tomorrowland snack bar as I had my first identifiable panic attack. That perfect girl is gone, indeed.

2017: Leaning over my four-year-old in his car seat in a parking lot in Nevada, I thought, “I hope he’s okay.” Right on cue, his cheeks filled, he leaned forward, and spewed out water and pretzel bits all over me. Touching my hand to my hair, it was wet and sticky. We were half-way through a three-hour car ride to Zion National Park. I breathed deep and said, “Hey honey, it’s going to be okay.” Then I got out the baby wipes and went to work cleaning up everything up.

What on earth happened in-between? In that three years, I had a second kid, started dealing with my anxiety, and grew so much as a parent. But I also learned a ton about traveling with kids. In-between the trip in 2014 and the one in 2017, we’ve been to Las Vegas, Cape Cod, multiple camping excursions, and so many day trips. While the anxiety still flairs, adjusting my expectations and my own behavior has helped me stay sane when we travel with kids.

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The Difference Between Being a Kid on a Trip and Being with Your Kids on a Trip

The Difference Between Being a Kid on a Trip and Being with Your Kids on a Trip. (Photo: White man holding one child with his arm around him and holding the hand of another child facing away from the camera in front of red cliffs.)

Nothing makes you feel more like “The Parent” than bringing your kids somewhere your parents brought you as a kid. Last week, we visited Zion National Park with our four-year-old and 18-month-old. The last time I was there, I was 17 years old on a trip with my own parents.

Needless to say, there was a world of difference between the two trips. The last time, the trip had gorgeous scenery, tough hikes, and lots of driving. This time, the scenery was pretty much the only similarity. Here’s what was different then and now:

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What is Sustainability?

What is Sustainability? Sustainability is about a lot more than what we buy - it's about community. (Photo: A tree with red berries)

Pushing my son on the biggest tree swing I’ve ever seen, he declared, “This is fun!” As I half-listened to a talk on medicinal plants, I had to agree. We were at the second annual Paw Paw Festival at Long Creek Homestead, the home of a local family who grows much of their own food based on ecological principles. While we go to these events because they’re fun, it’s much more than that. I bring my family to these events so we can have a little glimpse into a possible potential, beautiful future. That’s because these kind of community events embody social and environmental sustainability to me.

Sustainability has become such a buzzword it’s easy to lose the true meaning. Companies sell us “green living” via labels on products that promise they will be safer for your family. (Never mind anyone else’s family.) But to create a just world that offers opportunities to all people in a way that’s environmentally sound, we have to go deeper.

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What Gardening Has Taught Me About Parenting

What Gardening Has Taught Me About Parenting. Kids and seeds are more alike than you may realize! (Photo: Young boy playing in the dirt with tomato plants behind him.)

“Look, those tomatoes are red! Can I eat them?” Sprout asks me, hardly waiting to pop them in his mouth.

“Just wait to get inside for me to wash them,” I say, brushing aside the overgrown zucchini leaves as I walk towards the garden gate. He mock puts them in his mouth and I roll my eyes at him.

Getting inside, he hands me the tiny tomatoes for me to place in a small orange plastic bowl and rinse off. I hand it back and he sits down on the couch to chomp down. (Despite our “only eat at the table” rule.)

I reflect on how much he’s learned from spending time with me in the garden: knowing how to plant seeds, understanding the role of weeds, composting, and judging when vegetables are ripe.  But I also think about the life lessons the garden has taught me that apply to raising kids.

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Raising A Quiet Wild Child: How to Explore Nature with Introverted Kids

How to Explore Nature with Introverted or Quiet Kids. Do you want to spend a lot of time outside with your kid but they aren't the adventurous or "wild" type? Here's how to make the most of it for both of you! (Photo: Child in red jacket walking in a forest)

“Look, there’s a rabbit!” I exclaim to my four-year-old son, trying to keep my voice down.

“Where?” he asks, as I point to the animal.

“Do you see it? Let’s be quiet so we don’t scare it away.”

“Yeah,” he replies, as he watches the bunny twitch its tail. It looks at us, then goes back to munching on the clover. It doesn’t think we’re a threat.

While the rabbits in our neighborhood do tend to be bold, my son’s calm demeanor definitely allowed us to watch it longer than if he had a louder reaction.

While we may think of a “wild child” as boisterous, exploring nature isn’t limited to adventurous extroverts. In fact, more quiet or introverted children can get just as much, if not more, out of being outside. While he sprints and yell-sings inside, my son is naturally a bit cautious and calm outside.

Here’s what I’ve learned from exploring with him:

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9 Ways to Make Your Visit to a Local Farm Great

9 Ways to Make Your Visit to a Local Farm Great. Visiting a local farm with kids? Be sure to prepare beforehand! (Photo: Woman and child from the back walking along a dirt road next to flowers.)

My toddler eyed the cow warily. What was this creature? Sure, it said moo, but this was so much larger than he expected! Seeing him back away, we didn’t push it. We knew he would have plenty of other opportunities to visit a local farm or two along the way.

Visiting a local farm is a great way to connect kids with their food, especially if you don’t have the ability to garden. They get to see how fruits and vegetables grow and experience real, live animals. That helps them appreciate the hard work of the people who grow their food and put more thought to where it comes from.

Plus, it’s really fun. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of picking giant blueberries and slurping strawberry smoothies at a local farm near our house.

We’re particularly fortunate because our county actually has a large agricultural reserve set aside just for farming. Since that incident, we’ve visited many farms. Here’s what we’ve learned in the process:

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How To Make Your Camping Trip With Another Family Awesome

How to Make Your Camping Trip with Another Family Awesome. Going camping with two families? Check out these six lessons learned that helped us have a great time! (Photo: Campfire in darkness.)

A trip with cabins, right?” asked my friend. She was responding to my message about a camping trip our family was taking in a few weeks with her husband and son.

“Hahahaha. No,” I answered. I thought it was a joke; it was not. Knowing her general dislike for the outdoors, I had assumed she wasn’t coming. I was wrong.

Changing my tune, I said, “Well, cabins it is then!”

That was just one of the many ways I learned to tweak our routine and expectations to accommodate our first camping trip with another family. Because of the following lessons learned, our family ended up having a great time.

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How We Built a Raised Bed Children’s Garden

How We Built a Raised Bed Children's Garden for Our Young Kids. Want your kids to have somewhere to dig and plant flowers? Here's how we build a raised bed to accommodate them. (Photo: Boy with a giant shovel digging in a large wooden box.)

As a child, I’d spend hours in my backyard poking around in the dirt. I’d pretend specific plants were magical and “mix” up concoctions. I could be alone with my imagination, whether under the giant pine tree or next to my mom’s garden bed.

But our yard doesn’t offer the same experience for our kids. It’s on a corner heavy with foot traffic and no clear place for them to play in the dirt. So I wanted to make them one – somewhere that was set-aside, just for them. After more than a year of planning – raising a new baby took a higher priority – we finally started building it this spring.

The children’s garden isn’t anything complicated. While there are some amazing outdoor play spaces on Pinterest, we had neither the space or need for anything that elaborate. We just wanted to build something that could hold some dirt. It’s really just a box. Or in fancy garden terms, a raised bed children’s garden.

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