6 Tips for Getting Kids with Special Needs Outdoors

When my doctor called to tell me that my prenatal blood test came back positive for Down syndrome, I thought my life was over.

I thought my family would never be able to get out and have fun again. My husband and I decided to plan what we thought was our last vacation with our three children. We planned an epic adventure in several national parks that were close to us. We had so much fun hiking and exploring and being together.

One morning, while at the hotel, I noticed a family preparing for likely the same day of adventure as us – only they had a child in a wheelchair. I watched them and thought, “If they are able to get out and have fun and do this, then so can we.” I became determined to not let a diagnosis dictate our lives and limit our family time or goals.

Our sweet Ruby entered our lives and suddenly, we had a child with Down syndrome. We didn’t know what she would be able to do — what we did know what that it wasn’t going to stop us from having a life of adventure. We would figure out a way to make it all work

So, just like we had done before, we planned a trip to a national park – this time, Yellowstone. We purchased the cheapest hiking backpack we could find to carry Ruby and off we went. The moment I got that pack on my back with my sweet Ruby, I was hooked. It was the most incredible feeling carrying that pack.

We decided our family goal would be to visit and hike in all the national parks in the United States, so Down with Adventure was born. We wanted to inspire other families to not let a diagnosis stop them from getting out and having an adventure. We want special needs families to know that they can get outdoors – but it’s not always easy, and it takes planning and patience. Hiking has brought our family together and gives us the opportunity to unplug from the craziness of our everyday life. So far, we have hiked in 21 of the 59 national parks, and every single one has been our favorite.

Seeing how the outdoors has helped Ruby’s development and how it has shaped my other children has made all the sacrifice worth it, and we want other families to experience this same joy. So, here are six tips of my best tips for getting your kids in the outdoors

 

1. Make it fun for them

What do they want to see? Waterfalls? Play in the dirt? Lakes with a view? Play on rocks? Try a scavenger hunt. Find out what excites your kids and plan outings and hikes around those activities.

 

 

2. Snacks

My kids are all about the hiking snacks! Choosing snacks they don’t routinely have makes it extra exciting!

 

 

3. Look for a community to join

There are many communities out there dedicated to helping moms get outdoors with their kiddos. Someone else usually plans the hike or activity and you just have to show up and enjoy. It’s a great, easy way to start. It’s also a great way to meet other moms who have the same goals as you in regards to getting outdoors.

One of the organizations I joined was Hike It Baby, which has branches all over the U.S., and even a few internationally. I loved being able to see on a calendar when a group was going hiking and being able to work it into my schedule, rather than go through all of the logistics of planning one myself.

 

 

4. Know what you are getting into

Here’s the thing: a little research goes a long way. It’s important to know how long each hike is, the elevation gain, and what the terrain is like. Start out easy – go for hikes that aren’t too long or tough on little legs.

If you try to get out and do a five-mile hike the first time, your kids will probably hate it and complain and never want to do it again (understandably). Many city parks have paved trails that go around the park or around lakes or ponds, and they are a great way to start out. You can chat with your kids about nature and the sights and begin to get them excited about the concept of a hike.

 

 

5. Find a baby carrier that you love

A good carrier will change your life, as comfort is paramount in these situations. There are so many different styles and fits, and each person is so different in body shape and how they prefer to carry. Many times, local baby-wearing groups have an abundance of carriers available to try on before you decide which you’d like to buy.

Most good-quality carriers can be used for infants and toddlers up to about 45 pounds. Be sure to check manufacturer guidelines.

 

 

6. Just get out and do it!

I know it sounds cliché, but the best way to get your kids to learn to love the outdoors is to just go outside. The more you do it and the earlier in life they are exposed to it, the faster they will love it.

One of my favorite things about being on the trail with my children is listening to them and the conversations they have with each other and with me. The time we spend together is priceless and has been worth every meltdown, breakdown, and bad attitude. In the end, no one has ever said, “Well, that was a waste of my time.” It has always been worth the effort and memories made.

So lace up those shoes, grab some water and snacks, get outside and make some memories of your own!

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