Adventure Parenting Adventure People Education Have a Go Mini Feature Why Adventure?

Who thinks doing hard things is good for you?

Family Sailing
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Is hard work really good for you?

Doing hard things is good for you, isn’t it?

“Does anyone here think hard work is good for you?”

We expect a neutral response. Instead, a hundred and fifty hands eagerly shoot up into the air. We had planned to try and persuade the juniors and infants about the benefits of hard work. But our arguments don’t even get voiced; the children are already animatedly discussing their favourite challenges and achievements and how they love getting their heads down and stuck into something hard. It’s tricky to get on with our motivational speech when everyone is so motivated. Even the reception class is chatting away about the point of persevering with their reading.

The talk turns out to be hard work

I put my finger to my lips and ssshh them. Then we try shouting over the noise. But things only get worse when the school cook turns the blender on in the kitchen next to the assembly hall. This speaking engagement is turning out to be quite hard work- and it seems we are the only people in the room to be daunted by the difficult stuff. But when the going gets tough…

We raise our voices further and push on with the talk, asking why hard things are good for you. And the kids tell us how working hard makes you brainier, gives you confidence and stretches you physically. That’s exactly what we were going to say! They say they like doing harder and harder things. They enjoy learning instruments and languages and sums. They like a challenge.

We all like a challenge, don’t we?

So we tell them about ours. About what it’s like to cycle thousands of miles as a family. We tell them about the journeys we’ve done and how by now we’ve cycled about 10,000 miles in total. We explain that’s the equivalent of cycling halfway round the world or to Kendal and back every day for two years with weekends off. Far from being put off, they look as though they all want to come.

We tell them about our trips around Europe, about touring the length of New Zealand, about riding from Lands End to John O Groats one soggy summer. One of them tells us her Dad’s doing the same ride this summer; and she’s supporting him. We talk to them about how doing hard things is easier if you have the support of friends and family, to gee you along. We advise them to ask for help when they need it. But, of course, they know that already.

But we know all this..

But then we all know it don’t we? We know that we get more out of life if we set ourselves challenges. And that doing a challenge with others forms close bonds and relationships. And that supporting each other means we can do more, take on more, and achieve more. We also all appreciate that using our minds and bodies is good for us. We are aware that our brains need stimulation and our muscles need stretching. That new experiences bring learning and growth. That character is shaped beyond the comfort zone. We all know it, yet we don’t always do it.

Who’s up for a challenge? Easy to say but is it so easy to do?

The buzz of voices in the school hall increases even more when we ask the children what motivates them. We tell them how we motivate ourselves and our kids on our big journeys; establishing goals, setting up treats to look forward to and regular little rewards to help keep us going. We talk about our favourite four M’s of Motivation and ask them to guess what they are. They’re quick to suggest money and melons. And while they’re right about the first, we have to confess the other three, Mints, MP3’s and MacDonalds are not so healthy.

Pilgrims.. now they had it hard..

We show the pupils slides of our cycle pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. And we tell them the story of how thousands of pilgrims travel hundreds, even thousands of miles on foot acrossEurope each year, some in hope of the ultimate reward; a ticket to heaven. But only if they finish the trip. And not if they go on a coach or train. No pain, no gain. Then we confess that at the end of many a long, hot, tiring 1000 mile trip we’ve been known to reward our kids with a measly lollipop. A lollipop? For all that hard work? “You’ve got to be kidding!” They know full well that’s just not on. But also know the real reward is not something small and sweet that lasts 5 minutes but things that last for ever; the sense of achievement, learning, relationships, shared memories and spirit of adventure. Things that last for ever.

We know the lolly’s not the real reward

We end our talk by asking them to find a little challenge over the summer to do with their families. Or to find something a little bit hard to do at school today. Then we return to our old house stuffed full of tough challenges like wallpapering, plastering, and sanding down wooden boards. “What shall we do today? Just take it easy?” I grin. Stuart isn’t answering, he’s busy trying to find his swimming trunks.

If you’d like us to come talk to your school, meeting, festival or business, do get in touch. Download our mini-talks brochure or see our website for more information our talks.


About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


  • What if you find parenting a challenge and that’s one of the hardest things you do on a daily basis? We are “small town adventurers”; we go to the woods, we throw stones in the river, we explore the garden, the children play on the street. I find that it is my ability to cope with everything that parenting throws at me that limits my boundaries.

    • Parenting can indeed be a challenge and one for which there’s no instruction manual and not much training. We learn it as we go, as best we can. It may be that’s adventure enough for you? We found parenting challenging at home, and so it was too while travelling, but just differently so, not necessarily more so.

      “Small town adventures” are brilliant, just as important, perhaps more so than once in a lifetime experiences. You can develop the spirit of adventure, exploration and enquiry anywhere. And close to home is as good as anywhere else. Besides little and often may be more impactful long term than now and again.

      And you’re right, it is our own sense of our abilities that limits us. And more often it is our limits as parents that sets limits for our kids. But sometimes what we think are our limits are not really, they are just our our perceptions of them. It’s up to you whether you need or want to push on them, test them or see what you are really capable of.

      Thanks for commenting. Very thought provoking. 🙂

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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