A few weeks ago, when our daughter completed 10 months, we decided she was old enough to go camping. With a little planning, and a lot of packing, she spent her first Christmas Eve outdoors. Although she fell asleep on the hike, and missed her feed by three hours because we didn’t get back to camp in time to get to a sterilized bottle, she was unfazed. She seemed to love the cold nights, being bundled up and looking out at the world from our tent. If she could talk, I’m sure she’d be raving about her first camping holiday.
Of course, it isn’t easy, but taking your kids into the wilderness is an education you owe them, say outdoor professionals. Shantanu Pandit, an instructor for NOLS, the National Outdoor Leadership School headquartered in Wyoming in the US, maintains that in the Indian context, “it’s important to take kids outdoors to let them understand the link between them in their urban environment and the tiger out there in the jungle. We need to sensitize kids to the environment and to other people, and this is the best way of doing it.”
Pandit says it’s best to start taking kids out early in their lives so that they “see the connection between academics and reality; so that subjects like geography and history come alive and are fun and not something you learn by rote.”
So, how early should you start your kids? It’s never too early, some believe. Mohit Satyanand, now a Delhi-based stock market investor, is an avid outdoors person, who’d moved to the Kumaon hills for six years in the 1990s. From the time his son was born, he was exposed to the mountains because that’s where they lived then. “When he was two, he spent his second birthday at Zero Point, the end of the Pindari Glacier trek, where I carried him up. By the time he was four, he’d walked 90% of the way to Kedarnath,” and now aged eight, they continue to spend vacations in the mountains or by the sea or a river.
For Satyanand, who also takes other friends’ kids along, “the experience is about learning to do without. Even if we go to the seaside, we stay in a shack or in simple accommodation, where you learn to do without all the unnecessary stuff, specially the telephone and TV.”
For him, the primary reason to take this kind of holiday is that the kids enjoy it so much. Plus, “kids see things much more brightly, more sharply, they embrace nature with an openness that livens up our lives.”
Salil Kumar, a chartered accountant and once-upon-a-time river guide, also started taking his now eight-year-old son, Arvaan, camping at nine months. “I want to expose him to all kinds of outdoor activity. When we went to Rajasthan, for example, we stayed in tented accommodation on the banks of Chatrasagar Lake. Recently, we went skiing in Gulmarg, and I plan to go back there this year since Arvaan really enjoyed it.” Next on the agenda: kayaking.
Kumar considers these experiences a great complement to school life. He believes his son’s exposure to wildlife has increased his interest in nature. He finds their wildlife park trips have made watching Animal Planet and other educational TV programmes more meaningful and have increased his son’s ability to remember things taught in the classroom that he had already seen or experienced.
Not all parents who encourage their kids to explore the outdoors are the outdoorsy sort themselves. Jewellery designer Manisha Shah believes his outdoor experiences have made her son, Alok, now 22, “outgoing and practical and, more importantly, very flexible. I’ve seen that when a kid is not finicky, he can do anything, take any decision in life, with ease and confidence.”
Shah attributes her son’s positive attitude to starting him off at summer camps at the age of seven. “Both my husband and I believed that the kind of exposure kids get when they go outdoors on trips is wonderful and necessary because we can’t provide that ourselves. It really makes them rough-and-tough. After several camping trips, Alok’s food habits changed completely. He used to be so fussy, but started eating anything,” she says. Later, at age nine, she agreed to send him trekking to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal for 25 days, after he reasoned with her that the dangers of trekking in the Himalayas were as real as living in the city. “How could I argue with a nine-year-old saying that?” she says.
Ramaswamy Hari, vice-president of Deutsche Bank, Mumbai, says city children need nature and greenery more because they lead stressful lives. “The urban environment, the traffic, it’s depressing, it offers kids little excitement, which is why I want to take my son into the outdoors.” he says. With the Sahyadris so close, he finds a ready backyard to escape, even if for just a day. There is another reason: “I was deprived of such experiences as a child, and that’s why I want to make sure my son is not,” he says.
It isn’t always easy taking kids into the wilderness, but these are trips parents always enjoy just as much. And if all of it seems too onerous, hop over to the nearest national park or farm, the clean air will be a refreshing intervention in a sedentary lifestyle.
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