Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My journey to become an outdoor mom

When I first started writing I actually came very close to writing a piece on how I didn't consider myself an outdoor mom.  I considered myself an adventure mom.  I had little interest in toddler hikes, playing in the mud, looking for tadpoles, or nature study.  I really didn't even like camping all that much.  (This from the woman who just wrote a whole series on camping).  A lot has happened in the last six months though and I can now proudly say that I love the outdoors!  I want to go camping every weekend!  And I have very little interest in doing big adventures, hikes, and climbing trips at this stage of our lives.

Looking for tadpoles

I started following many cool outdoor family blogs (see the blog roll at the side of my page) and the more I read about outdoor play, the more I started to appreciate the concept, to see the value in it, and to actually aspire to become a true outdoor mom.  Note that this does not apply to winter (yet).  I still wish I could get out to do big 20km cross country ski trips every weekend in winter and I still have a long ways to go before I truly enjoy playing in the snow.  Summer however belongs to the young - and the young at heart.

Kids running their crazy into the wind

In January, I started an outdoor playgroup that's now called the Calgary Outdoor Adventures Playgroup.  I'd read about groups such as this and my friend Lia from Alaska inspired me with her group called Skeaddle because I figured if she could run a playgroup that met outside year round with their weather, I could run one here.  It gets pretty cold in Calgary and when I started the group in the middle of winter, I was pleased that we actually had a consistent four or five families come out each week.

February in Calgary

 I started the group for a few reasons, the first being that I wanted to learn how to enjoy outdoor play in all weather.  I've always been a fair weather kinda girl and when it's raining, we stay home.  If it's -30C, we don't go to the playground.  That's changed a lot thanks to this group and we did go to the playground when it was definitely close to -20C.  We even stayed for an hour!  I also wanted my son to learn to enjoy playing outside in all conditions.  At the beginning of winter, he hated the snow, disliked the cold intensely, wouldn't wear mittens, and rejected much of his outdoor wardrobe.  By the end of the winter, thanks to the playgroup and some backcountry trips with family friends, he was happily wearing his outdoor clothing, had his favourite hat, favourite mittens, and even loved his scarf.  He'd ask me to put mittens on.  Success!!

Learning to like snow

Now it's Spring and we are averaging 20 kids out per week at our outdoor playgroup.  The kids have been playing in mud, jumping in puddles, hiking together and chasing each other down hills, exploring the best natural areas our city has to offer, and making new friends.  It's been a very rewarding experience for me and it's been wonderful watching my son learn to appreciate outdoor play.  There are days now when I can't get him to come inside.  We go from one park to the next and try to stay out as long as we can until dinner approaches.

Playing in the Ravine near our house

I used to enjoy indoor play parks, loved taking my son to the mall, and would frequent places with names like "Stir Crazy" or "Coffee and Scream."   Now, we plan our play dates outside and I meet girlfriends for coffee at outdoor playgrounds.  I avoid indoor playgroups and don't host large groups of moms at my house anymore.  All socialization is done outdoors with the kids running free and happy.  I am happier for the changes and my son is definitely happier!

Toddlers burning off energy outdoors

The month of May was a big month for me in terms of outdoor goal setting.  One of the main goals was to  get a bike and learn to enjoy cycling again.  It's a classic outdoor activity I could enjoy close to home, in the evenings, and as a family thanks to our Chariot that pulls our son along on our rides.  I've discovered that I actually love riding my new bike and we now have another family activity we like doing together in the city.  A rainy day can be salvaged by a quick family bike ride between storms.  That time before our son goes to bed is now filled with pleasant rides around the neighborhood instead of watching television.  And, nobody told me how much more you get to appreciate the smells of spring when you're on a bike!  Every flower, every bush, every new tree - it all smells so much better when the breeze hits you from your bike.

My new bike

Another goal I had for the month of May was to learn to like camping.  This is a whole story in and of itself, but we had a fabulous time camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park and I knew then, that in the right conditions, I loved camping.   I learned that I need to go camping with friends and that I need to slow down more when camping.  Camping isn't just about having a base camp for hiking adventures.  It's about setting up tents and trailers beside a creek so the kids can play in the mud while you sit in a lawn chair drinking coffee and soaking up the morning sun.  It's about short little walks and hikes around the campground.  And it's about s'mores, hot dogs, and fun around the campfire.

Playing in the mud beside our campsite in Dinosaur Provincial Park

The final goal I set last month was to learn how to slow down.  Camping taught me a lot about this but I also discovered it was easy to slow down when I stopped taking the Chariot on every walk or hike.  Now I let my son walk or ride his Strider bike and I enjoy the pace of a three year old.  I close my eyes sometimes and just let the moment wash over me.  We worked hard at turning our backyard into an outdoor play heaven and now I can just sit back in my lounge chair, watch my son play in his new 6x8 foot sand box, and relax in the sun.  It's my version of urban camping.

Our new sand box and backyard climber

I still have a long ways to go on my journey of becoming an outdoor mom but I feel like my whole personality has been transformed in a very short period of time.  I can only imagine the changes that will take place in the next six months.  Maybe I'll go back to school yet for that Outdoor Education Degree.


I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments.  Have you had a similar journey since becoming a parent?


  1. Love the playing in the mud pic!

  2. Wow, I had no idea you only got into being an outdoor mom 6 mths ago. When I followed you on Twitter, I thought you were totally an expert! I really appreciate this post, it's really inspired me to do more outdoors with our daughter, other than just the usual playgrounds, spray parks and swimming pools. @themamaruns

  3. Your son looks like he has taken to the outdoors with ease and that is awesome you were able to get to a playground in -20 weather. We never have to be that " brave" around here with our temperate temps. Kids seriously love hanging with friends in the outdoors and the really sleep better at night with all the exercise and fresh air. Nicely written and welcome to the club, so to speak. ;)

  4. Tanya, Calgary is a tough city for those who aren't die-hard outdoorsy types. The weather conditions are unpredictable and extreme at times. What you've accomplished in the last six months is something to be proud of, and you've not just done this favour for yourself and your child. You've given others a safe place to explore the outdoors with confidence. Well done! And, I know just what you mean about biking and spring smells - I love that about biking.

  5. I love the top pic! The boots are pretty much useless :)

  6. I love the top pic! The boots are pretty much useless :)

  7. Yes! It´s wonderful outdoor life, I congratulate moms that let their kids go on outdoor life and learn together camping and so on... makes a happy family life, grow up with love to nature since early age, lately I bought a camping tent to my grandson, 4 years old and fix it at the home garden, he plays and sleep there ... because he is camping all the time ... my sons were boyscouts and they are going happy with their children, scouting again..... I love the top pic!

  8. It'so hard to go outdoor If it's -30C.makes a happy family life, grow up with love to nature since early age, lately I bought a camping tent to my grandson. Nice outdoor.

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