Adventure Kids. How Do You Grow an Adventurer?
At one of Alastair Humphrey’s famous Nights of Adventure, Kirstie and I stood in front of an audience of several hundred hard-core adventurers, you know the kind that have cycled around the world or rowed across the Atlantic. As part of the entertainment we were given six minutes to talk, in a format that allowed twenty slides to be shown for just twenty seconds each, a kind of adventure in speaking. We’ve never been first, furthest or fastest at anything, so wondered what we could we possibly say that would be of interest? And ended up with this personal view on the importance of growing young adventurers… adventure kids.
How do you grow an adventurer?
How do you grow an adventurer? Well how do you grow anything? By planting a seed. But if you’re a parent you obviously already know how to do that. Still the seeds of young adventurers don’t grow on their own. They need a helping hand; they need soil, water, light and space to grow.
Family is like the soil
We like to think of family as the soil in which young adventurers first grow. As parents it’s our attitude towards the world which teaches kids theirs. We can take them out and show them it’s safe to go and explore, or we can stay at home and teach them the world’s a scary place.
Encouragement is like water
Any kid will tell you, plants need soil and water to grow. In a family, encouragement is like water; without it things shrivel and die. Encouragement to leave the computer and TV, to log out of Minecraft, put down the smartphone and get out and explore.
Light, space and freedom
Finally they need light, space and freedom. Freedom to climb trees, light fires, whittle sticks, get lost and go hungry. Adventure kids need room to grow without us parents getting in the way. And as parents, that’s what we all do isn’t? Give them space, encouragement, freedom and permission to explore the big wide world.
Is that what we do?
Well, it’s what we like to think we do. Or maybe just what we’d like to do. It’s what my parents did though. I remember as a kid heading off on a Saturday afternoon with a little money in my pocket and without a phone. And I wouldn’t come home until dark. My parents, accidentally or otherwise, nurtured an adventurous soul. Kind of.
Are we adventurous?
Some would say we’re not real adventurers though. And it’s true we’ve never been first to bag anything apart from the weekly shopping. We’ve never crossed an ocean without using a plane or ferry and will never be the fastest at anything. Although as part of our cycling themed honeymoon Kirstie and I were rumoured to have become the fifth and sixth cyclists to ever get to the end of Chile’s Carreterra Austral.
These days we’re really just an ordinary family with a taste for adventure and a penchant for chronicling our adventures the modern way, using social media. We record our experiences in part to create our own thoroughly modern family archive, but actively share them too in the hope of inspiring other families to get out, see more of the richness and beauty of the world, and discover for themselves the benefits of adventuring together.
Is it a blog or a social experiment?
We call this our Family Adventure Project. Although some might call it a cruel social experiment, an adventure indoctrination programme or a grandiose parenting adventure. Truth be told, when we spend seven weeks each summer together 24/7 it feels like a parental endurance test. And Kirstie’s mother just calls it stupid.
Still, over the last eight summers we’ve been on biking adventures that have covered over 10,000 miles in twenty plus European countries. We’ve biked from Lands End to John O Groats, and I think made the record books for being the slowest; it took us seven weeks. We’ve cycled the ancient Camino de Santiago; ridden across a (small) continent, well from Amsterdam to Venice. And explored the Baltics, Central Europe and the Balkans.
And before all that we cycled from end to end of New Zealand… with two toddlers in trailers. I think both our parents thought that was stupid. And so did some of our friends. But it was an incredible adventure.
Does it count as adventure?
Some people say family adventure isn’t real adventure though; that it’s not of the same calibre as an expedition in search of an unclimbed peak or a team trying to cross an ocean in a rowing boat. And it’s true our stories will certainly never make the papers as firsts, furthest or incredible feats. But we don’t do it to get in the papers. We do it to challenge ourselves and have fun as a family.
Being an adventurous parent brings many unique challenges. Have you tried biking across a country with two toddlers while six months pregnant? Kirstie has and came to believe it could be a the ultimate cure for morning sickness. Or have you tried riding a Goodie bike and trailer for 2000 kilometres across the Baltics. Believe me, that requires a certain mental strength to stay calm and balanced when you have two kids fighting on the back. And a lot of physical strength to pull kids, a trailer, tents, a kitchen and cricket set uphill while the population of Latvia looks on.
So why do we do it? Well, beyond the fun, family time and personal challenge, we have a more serious purpose. To grow our own adventurers. Or at least nurture a spirit of adventure in our kids. Because we think that matters.
But why? Aren’t there enough adventurers in the world? Hasn’t the world already been explored? Isn’t adventure really a hedonistic, selfish activity that doesn’t deliver anything useful to society? Well, that may all be true but we still think it matters. For different reasons.
We think society today is beating the adventurous spirit out of people. And our risk averse culture is teaching parents to be scared of the world. Of strangers. Of the elements. Of going out and exploring. And they are passing that on to their children.
Too scared to adventure?
As parents ourselves, we’re not scared of adventure. Although maybe we should be, for we do seem to attract the occasional misadventure. Our first experience of family sailing ended up with the prop shaft falling off, us teaching the kids how to bail, while waiting for the RNLI to turn up. And our recent trip to the Balkans turned out to be more of a trial of heat, dodgy traffic and border politics than we had in mind.
The value of adventure
While many families might see experiences like these as the stuff of family nightmares, we believe they have real value in developing ourselves and our kids. Such travel and experience not only shows the kids the world and how it works, but shows them how to deal with anything it throws at them. What’s more, dealing with it as a family creates strong memories and even stronger relationships, if not in the moment then at least afterwards.
Adventure is good
Adventure (and the odd bit of misadventure) is good for kids. It teaches them to be resilient, teaches them how to weather a storm. It teaches them not to be afraid to go out and explore in life, to discover and learn about new environments, to have a go, try new things, to work hard and discover what they are capable of. It teaches them skills and attitudes for life. It helps them become adventure kids.
You don’t need to go large
Of course you don’t need to ‘go large’ for that. The potential for adventure is around us everyday and close to home… if you can be bothered to get out, go somewhere new, do something new or do something differently together. Which is what The Family Adventure Project is really all about.
Grand as it may sound, we do believe active days out, microadventures and bigger family challenges have an important role to play in developing healthy young people, future adventurers and a healthy, less fearful, more connected society. Little or large, adventure matters.
So if you’ve got kids of your own and find yourself stuck at home a little too often, playing a little too much Minecraft or with fingers stuck to your tablet, why not take a leaf out of our book and get out and get active on a little adventure together. Or if you’re planning your own great big adventure, why not consider taking the kids along. I guarantee it’ll add a whole different dimension to your experience and your relationships. Kids are born adventurers but adventure kids are made through judicious adventurous parenting.
Want more family adventure and adventure kids inspiration?
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