The objective of introducing children to the outdoors is that they develop a fondness for nature as well as get an introduction to outdoor living skills. In this article Maninder Kohli shares information on multiple factors associated with children and the outdoors. Also included in the article are some examples of children and their parents who have participated in an adventure of their choice.
Outdoor Education: The Woodstock School at Landour offer’s students outdoor education as a part of the curriculum. The Hanifl Centre at Woodstock has a staff of 4 dedicated to managing outdoor education. Every October students participate in ‘Activity Week’ and ‘Week of Wilderness’ where they go for long treks and learn outdoor living skills. In March, students participate in an ‘Outdoor Learning Weekend’. The campus also has a climbing wall. Research shows that the collective impact of outdoor education greatly supports character building, expanding the child’s comfort zone and balancing out the negative aspects of a digital life.
My 5km Long Classroom: A few years back I was staying over at the Rokeby Manor at Landour and next to the bed was a booklet written by a teacher at Woodstock School with the forward by noted author Stephen Alter. It was titled ‘My 5km Long Classroom’. The booklet vividly described a 5km long route from the School to a point on the Dhanolti Road including flora, fauna and features which appear along the way. There is a proposal at Woodstock to declare every Friday for Classes 6, 7 and 8 as non class room day and children spend the day outdoors with nature being the lead teacher.
Format for taking Children on a Trek: There is no better format than parents and children along with their friends trekking together. The trek should be easy paced and of a short duration. I took my children and their friends to Harkidun in Garhwal for their first trek. Its a most stunning location and we camped alongside the Tons river. My elder son Sumer at that time was 10 years old and while on the trek a lady from Osla village showed up and asked if Sumer is willing to marry her daughter. She mentioned she was willing to offer two buffalo’s as a goodwill gesture. Sumer was trekking slowly and after hearing this I noticed his pace started to pick up!
Iman on the Slopes: One of the questions which comes up is how old should children be to start them off. The answer is age 5. This year several friends were skiing at Gulmarg. The most popular group was of a family where the grandparents and the grand children were skiing together. Iman was 5 years old and managed himself well. I asked his porter how he was doing. He said he is doing well but has a condition that after every 30 minutes he will take a 10 minute break and make a snowman!
Mihika and Obra Gad: Several years back I had joined a group doing an exploratory trek of Obra Gad in Western Garhwal, this valley runs parallel to the Harkidun valley. Parents Vinay and Jasmine had several years of mountaineering experience and felt confident to include Mihika, age 4. She had the support of a porter and a basket which she would use when she felt tired. This orientation helped as at age 7 Mihika made it to Kala Pathar 5500m, the view point of Mr. Everest on her own steam.
Shastri’s on the Move: The Shastri family wanted to climb a peak as a family and joined in on a trek heading to Churdhar Peak. The concern was on the youngest family member Kartikeya - age 8. Would he have the legs to get to the top. As the trek started the tables soon turned. Kartikeya and his sister Devika age 12 were in the lead and the parents were struggling at the back. My experience has been that mostly parents tend to underestimate the ability of their children. In this image the Shastri family is standing on Churdhar’s Subsidiary Peak 3300m.
Children and Ladakh: Most people who travel to Ladakh are blinded with the desire to go to Nubra and Pangong Lake. This involves a lots of driving time and works for adults but not for the youngsters. Rishabh and Aanchal parked themselves at Ueli on the outskirts of Leh and did multiple short treks with their children, Shaurya and Arihant - ages 5 and 7. They spent 90% of the time in the outdoors and 10% time in the car. It ended up as a great opportunity for the children to enjoy the outdoors with their parents.
Sanya and Lord Curzon Trail: Dr. Sanjay Dhawan and I had previously trekked together and were now planning a trek on the Lord Curzon Trail. This trek is steeped in history and ends at Auli offering dramatic views of Nanda Devi. Sanjay mentioned he is keen to bring his 16 year old daughter Sanya along. At the last minute he pulled out of the trek and we were all wondering what was the reason. He wanted his daughter to stand up and take responsibly for her actions of the trek and thats exactly what happened. In this image Sanya in the pink is standing with fellow trekkers on Kuari Pass 3650m.
Trisha and Annapurna: Trisha aged 14 joined a week long trek to Annapurna Basecamp (ABC). It was her first trek bur her mother Sarika was confident she has the legs to make it to ABC. As you reach close to the basecamp the altitude started to kick in but Trisha was holding up well. In this image Trisha is seen at ABC at 4000m with the imposing wall of Annapurna rising a further 4000m right behind her. Since that effort Trisha has since participated in over 10 treks across the Himalaya.
Tara in Kashmir: Tara age 12 joined up on a trek from Pahalgam to Sonamarg via Tarsar Lake. As we were doing the trek in just 4 days it was quite an undertaking involving about 55 km’s of trekking with a couple of 10 hour days thrown in. Tara struggled on some occasions but kept pushing herself. Kashmir has a great culture where a trekking pony walks along and you can jump on to the pony when you are tired. She was elated when she finished the trek and felt great about the fact that she had managed to greatly expand her perceived comfort zone.
Manya and her Mother: A few years back I was on a short trek to Churdhar peak. Manya age 14 was on the trek and brought her mother along for company. They did well and both summited its subsidiary peak at 3300m. Two years later I was doing a trip to Everest Base Camp (EBC) and Manya reached out. She had turned 16 but the challenge of EBC was substantially higher at 5300m or 17,500 feet. Manya said she can do it and again brought her mother for company. On 30th April 2019, Manya and her mother reached EBC and proudly posed for this photograph.
Summary: It's not only important but critical to connect children with the outdoors. Most schools offer limited opportunities and its therefore important for parents to take the lead. My observation has been children who spend time in the outdoors and play outdoor sports tend to develop a spirit of adventure, have a higher fitness level and remain connected with nature through their lives.