“Outdoors” is self-explanatory: Get out of the house. Yes, but how many folks actually do “out-of-doors” activities? Do you remember the toy you got for Christmas when you were six? Likely not. I would bet you remember the first fish you caught though. We remember memories, not things. Memories are cheap and easy to make; the majority are made out of the house from little or nothing.
Family times are the most important of all. In a world with many single-parent households, getting outside is one of the more important aspects of a kid’s life. Outdoor recreation can be expensive or mostly free. It is as simple as taking the dog for a walk ... or just a walk, should your household be dogless. The key is to make it a family outing, not, “Hey Bobby — take the dog out to pee, will you?”
Days are short in Alaska, decent LED headlamps are under 10 bucks. Take your kids on an expedition around the yard to look for tracks if nothing else is easily available. Vole tracks and squirrel tracks are usually easy to find.
Set up a bird feeder on an outside window sill. A feeder can be as simple as a cut-down shoebox stapled to the sill. Stores sell high-powered feed for chickadees and redpolls. That is not a requirement. Birds of many kinds will come to dried bread, bacon fat and other household leftovers. Red squirrels, the bane of most birders, will thrive on almost everything and are interesting critters on their own hook. Magpies quickly learn to tap on the window if you have not replenished the food supply. It matters little what wildlife you attract; it is the fact that you are bringing a life “new to you” into your family’s world.
Another inexpensive activity is sledding. Kids sleds are cheap. A piece of Visqueen or even a big garbage bag will suffice also. All you need is a rock-free incline. There are stores that carry used sporting goods. Secondhand places are also excellent sources for used skis and ice skates.
An ice rink can be built in the backyard. Clear the snow away from any flat spot, spray it down with a garden hose to seal the ground and let it freeze. Then add a little water every day until you get a smooth surface. Who knows — your house may harbor a future NHL star. Scotty Gomez came out of Alaska, after all.
One of the more popular activities, and practical, is fire-building. A couple years ago, I took a bunch of little kids out in the woods on a program called Dads Night Out. We went off into the trees (this was February) not far and stopped to build fires. Each kid had a single match, some twine, plus a bit of wire in a Ziploc bag. They watched a fire-building demonstration and then were sent out to gather materials for their own fire. Every kid was successful. When the fires were all happily burning, we took our headlamps and looked for signs of animals. The boys, between 6 and 10 years old, then learned how to set a squirrel snare with their bit of wire. These youngsters learned to set snares and fires, but what they built was a memory.
The only cost for these experiences outside of the house is time. And ... you don’t need to be 10 to enjoy them. I’m a bit over 10 and heck, I still have a ball doing these things. An outdoor camping trip 20 feet from the back door can be a hoot for kids and adults. No tent? That’s fine. Dress up the best you can, gather up a big pile of spruce branches for a base and toss a blanket on top. Build a little fire, (not too close to the branches), roast some marshmallows, then lay down for a nap. Kids can pretend they are running the Iditarod and are napping by their dog team.
A couple of 30-minute sleeps and everyone will run freezing into the house and jump into a nice warm bed. Because the camp is just outside the door the experience stays pleasant. You aren’t building toughness here — you are having fun and making memories.
The picture should be clear. I remember my first ice-fishing trip and my first run down a gravel hill on a pair of old cross country skis. Neither was successful, but both gave me something to build on. Age matters not at all. You are building memories — get out and make one that will last.