I’ve been thinking about how the outdoors benefits girls a lot lately.
My daughter is now in third grade, which feels like a turning point grade. Schoolwork seems more purposeful and serious. Her friendships have evolved a bit and don’t seem to be splitting and reforming with the same ease. I’m hearing more “I can’t do that” out of her than I remember before. And I have, sadly, started to become uncool in her eyes.
I’ve been watching this evolution and getting more and more concerned about it. I’ve read the research and, worse, I remember my own school years. I know that she’s just about to wade into the rough stuff. How can I help keep my daughter moving forward, not back? How can I help her keep building, not shrinking? Is all this outdoors stuff that I do helpful at all?
Turns out: yes. A recent study released by REI shows that women who spend more time outside tend to feel more equal than men in all areas: school, work, and sports. Further, women who were encouraged to go outside as kids continue to go outside more as an adult. Other studies show that outside time builds confidence and independence, the exact traits I want both my kids to have in spades.
So how do we use the outside to keep our girls–and all kids–strong as they start to enter the grown-up world?
Be the encouragement
Interestingly, the REI study showed that mothers were a greater influence over fathers in getting kids outside: 40% said their mothers encouraged them, but only 30% said fathers. With all due respect to my husband, this is true in my family. I am the herder, the hike planner, the one who nags them to get out there. I accommodate my daughter’s outdoor wishes as much as I can, even when that means scaling a mountain she may not be ready for. I do my best to make sure my kids know I think it’s important that they get outside.
Be the role model
Something I’ve noticed over the years is that while I am the one who spends more time encouraging and planning outdoor activities, my skills are lacking. As my kids have gotten older, we’ve moved beyond basic plant and animal identification and they are interested in activities outside my comfort zone, like downhill skiing and rock climbing. I could hand them off to other people, but for my own personal development, I need to learn these things. More than that, my daughter needs to see me learning these things. For years I’ve toyed with the idea of attending a Becoming an Outdoors Woman camp and this may be my year.
The REI study also showed that women don’t see themselves represented outside as much as they’d like. Most outdoor articles, nature and adventure documentaries, and gear catalogs feature men. If I want my daughter to fully absorb the message that she belongs in the wild, she needs to see women out there. Thankfully, she’s had other great female role models–camp counselors, rock climbing instructors–but it starts with me.
Because things are about to get challenging for her and I want to fell like I’m preparing her the best I can.