Guest Post: Rebecca of Ninja Librarian, on How to Get Kids Outside


One of my players will study in college to become a librarian.

guest postI think it’s quite cool. She’s a studious sort, who found herself determined to try out for soccer in high school – and make it. She did just that and even scored a few goals along the way. She was inspirational to her teammates and to me.

Today’s guest writer is a librarian – but a ninja variety.

Rebecca writes the blog The Ninja Librarian. She’s the coolest librarian you’ll ever know. (Even cooler than that dreamy one at the Mint Hill Library.) Rebecca writes about writing, and of course reviews books for kids and adults.

She’s here today to talk about getting kids outdoors.

Please give Rebecca a warm CD welcome, and be sure to visit The Ninja Librarian.

stormtrooper outdoors view
photo credit: DocChewbacca “Top of the hill” via photopin (license)

First thing, I want to thank Eli here at Coach Daddy for inviting me in to write a guest post. I’m really excited for this chance to write about something that matters a lot to me: getting children into the outdoors.

It’s not exactly news that being outdoors is good for kids, and the wilder the green space the better. That’s why camping and backpacking are such perfect activities for families. But to a lot of parents, taking children into the woods is a daunting prospect. They’ll get lost! They’ll get eaten by bears! They’ll get (gasp!) dirty!

rebecca guest 1
My boys. Living proof that dirt won’t kill a kid

Parents who themselves are used to camping and backpacking may hesitate to take their children and can deny themselves something they love and crave out of misplaced fear.

rebecca guest 2
Our babies learned to scramble at Joshua Tree National Park.

I’m here to fix all the things keeping your kids at home.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But I do have some thoughts to share, as someone who took my babies camping and, yes, backpacking, from a very early age. I even wrote a book for the nervous parents, disguised as a picture book for the children. A is for Alpine began as a PDF I shared with some fellow backpackers who had small children. I wanted to let them know that they could still hike and backpack, though expectations have to be adjusted when you have children. I passed out a few electronic copies of the book and more or less forgot about it while I wrote novels.

With the recent uptick in reports of the benefits of the outdoors on children, it became apparent that while most parents won’t be taking their kids backpacking, the book would help any parent – and child – envision themselves in the outdoors, camping and hiking. So I published the book, and have toyed with writing a “how-to” manual to go with it.

But really, all you need to know is:

  • Get out.
  • Don’t be afraid.
  • Have fun.
  • Kids are supposed to get dirty.
  • Take your children camping.

Many new parents are especially reluctant to take their babies out, but I discovered that infants are easy. They stay where you put them, and it’s easy to share your tent with one. Even backpacking isn’t too hard when they are still small and light. Diapers are a challenge (some advocate using cloth so you can rinse and dry the wet ones, but my kids insisted on disposables, so we just dealt with carrying them). But food is easy when they are being breastfed, and rice cereal is already a dehydrated meal; just add treated water.

Our first son went on a number of trips in his first year (the next summer, when we had a toddler and a newborn, we stayed closer to the car).


camping kids cute
Our all-terrain baby in camp near Mt. Evans, Colorado. Tip: nylon jacket and pants went a long way toward keeping him cleaner, as dirt brushed off easily.

Toddlers, on the other hand, are hard. Toddlers have a lot of mobility and not much sense. At this stage, it’s a good idea to have extra adults, so someone is always available to watch the kid while camp chores can still get done. But the extra work is well-rewarded when you are able to share the small child’s way of looking at the word. Everything is new and fascinating, and their low-to-the-ground structure allows children to see things we towering adults too often miss: bugs and tiny plants and shiny rocks. This is a bad time for backpacking (too heavy to carry, too small to walk far), but still a good time for hiking and camping.

Find places to take them with water. Maybe some kids are different, but from an early age, mine were happy if they were throwing rocks into the water. Or sticks. Or anything else they could get their hands on.

boys river outdoors
Day-hiking and lots of water kept them and us happy for a couple of years during the “awkward stage.”

Bring a toy and a stuffy the kid loves, to make a tent a friendly place. We chose to put our boys in one tent, us in another, but every family has to find the right way for themselves.

mountains kid outdoors
A favorite stuffy and the trail is their home.

The joys of a child’s eye view of the world continue as the kids grow, and become the perfect camp and trail companions, able and (sometimes) eager to help with camp chores and entertain themselves. This was when backpacking became a joy, The boys became more able to hike, to carry a greater share of the gear, and to appreciate the wild places we visited. Outfit children with some knowledge and a safety whistle (be sure they understand it’s just for emergencies!), and let them explore their world.

hiking scenic walking sticks
Proud to carry their own stuff.


rebecca guest 7
Hard to beat that look of pride over the first fish.

Sometimes you have to swallow your fears, bite your tongue, and let them discover the world. Stand by with dry clothes and band-aids.

kid rock outdoors
We found that our boys were very aware of their own limits climbing, and didn’t push it. Mom got scared sometimes, but they never fell after age 4. Before that—see comments on toddlers and sense.

So, to summarize here’s how to get your kids outdoors:

Accept dirt. It doesn’t hurt children or adults.

Teach Leave No Trace ethics.

Keep them safe, but not too safe. Let them explore.

Watch for ticks. Those are nasty. Check carefully.

Use sunscreen.

Buy them decent raingear. Kids are more vulnerable to heat and cold than adults, so pay attention.

Bring toys.

Feed them whatever they’ll eat.

Make it special.

Enjoy the outdoors as they do.

You’ll all benefit from it.

rebecca guest 9
A real reward: my husband and 18-year-old son, in the Sierra Nevada. And my pack was smaller than either of theirs.

Thanks again for letting me come by and share on one of my favorite topics!

Here’s the scoop on Rebecca and her books.

Rebecca Douglass grew up in Idaho, Arizona, and Washington states, and now lives near San Francisco. Her passions include backpacking, hiking, books, and running and biking. She works at the library, volunteers in the schools, and is having a great time writing for kids and adults of all ages.

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  1. Aw….lovely photos! Oh yes, let the kids get dirty. It’s good for their antibodies. And I love to see them jump in the muddy puddles. LOL! ٩(*ゝڡ◕๑)۶♥

    1. Rebecca Douglass says:

      I once read a woman’s journal of the Oregon Trail where she commented that they had learned that a baby is not harmed if it goes 3 months without a bath 🙂

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        I know some tweens who try to test that theory!

      2. Wow, how interesting. It’s okay if the weather is cool though. In Malaysia, it’s hot and humid and most people here takes a shower twice a day. 😻

      3. Eli Pacheco says:

        I take two a day even in the winter.

      4. Rebecca Douglass says:

        Hot and humid climates make it all very different, Bloggy Cat! And yet…showers are a pretty new thing compared to how long people have been living there. I don’t advocate skipping them at home, but on the trail it’s okay to be a little funky. That said, when backpacking I personally bathe daily, in whatever half-frozen lakes are available. For some reason the kids didn’t like that 🙂

      5. Eli Pacheco says:

        My dad once shaved up in the high country, on a near-freezing morning, while camping!

    2. Eli Pacheco says:

      Dads do it, too.

  2. It wasn’t that long ago when children spent almost all day outdoors. We are fortunate to live a rural lifestyle and we never allowed the kids too many inside distractions. We have always been avid campers and deer hunters and always just took the kids along. Many happy memories from it! Now both grown, they each have incorporated some parts of this into their lives. In fact son & wife are passing on a love of the outdoors to their two! I love being outside with my granddaughter. She is five and recently we had a picnic by our pond. After we ate, I lay back to rest and remarked about the clouds. She lay back and joined me: not bored, but fascinated. Remarking on the beauty, the shapes, the movement. It was beautiful!
    Visit me @ Life & Faith in Caneyhead. 😉

    1. Rebecca Douglass says:

      I was of a time and place where I, too, grew up outdoors. It’s been harder in our more urban setting, but getting out of town a lot helps.

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        I like when they make parks in cities, so you at least can get a taste of it.

    2. Eli Pacheco says:

      Don’t you love that? I love the idea of my grandkids doing the same things we did with our kids on camping trips.

  3. ksbeth says:

    great post rebecca, and nice to meet you. i totally agree with this approach, i teach 3-5 year olds and we are all about outside. good for all of us – beth

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      What else are you going to do in Michigan, right Beth? I kid. Outside rocks.

    2. Rebecca Douglass says:

      Yes! I hate to see the little ones cooped up indoors.

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        Release them to the wild!

  4. stomperdad says:

    I’ve been taking my boys hiking for years on the local trail. Water is a big deal. When there is water to splash in and throw things in, they are much happier. I loved watching them explore and the conversations we’d have we never would have had at home. So many questions…

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      What else are you going to do in Canada? There’s just something about taking our kids to the great outdoors, isn’t there Eric?

      1. Rebecca Douglass says:

        Canada has some wonderful outdoors. In 2013 we took our boys to the Rockies for a month. 28 days of camping and backpacking, and no nights indoors. Heck, we only ate 3 meals indoors, and one of those was in a back-country hut!

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        That sounds like one awesome month.

    2. Rebecca Douglass says:

      Ah, yes, water. And the conversations. When they are teens, long drives to trails help with that, too.

      1. stomperdad says:

        I already have some long hikes picked out for them when they’re a bit older and can do all day hikes. 100′ waterfalls at the end of them 😀

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        Until then, you can backpack them both, one in front, one in back, Eric.

      3. stomperdad says:

        Together they weigh as much as I do! They have 2 legs, they can walk 🙂

      4. Eli Pacheco says:

        They should carry you, bro.

      5. Eli Pacheco says:

        Eventually, they thaw out and love the journey.

      6. Rebecca Douglass says:

        Yeah, once they were big enough to put one foot in front of the other for a sustained period, they were out of the packs! We carried ours longer than many people, just because they were small for their ages, especially the older one, and that let us cover more miles.

      7. Eli Pacheco says:

        Plus it’s part of the P(arenthood)90-X.

  5. Beth says:

    Hi Rebecca! This is a wonderful post, we are taking our three year old to a state park next week and staying in a cabin with no TV or anything and I cannot wait to get him outside fishing and hiking! We try to expose him to as many outdoor activities as possible and so far it seems to work well!

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Those cabins are awesome – once the kids give up on trying to pick up stray Wi-Fi!

      1. Rebecca Douglass says:

        LOL! Yeah, a cabin is a nice compromise, and doesn’t require you to buy camping gear 🙂 Getting away from TV and wifi is the big thing!

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        A cabin can feel rustic enough! I think we’ll get one for Independence Day.

  6. cricketmuse says:

    What a delightful paradox–a librarian advocating getting outside. As an English teacher with a librarian’s ❤️, I enjoyed this post and will check out this ninja.

    1. Rebecca Douglass says:

      Books and the outdoors–somehow, they go together well. We take it easy when backpacking, with some long afternoons lazying around camp and reading. E-readers are the best for that–as many books as we want in one small package!

      P.S. I’m really an English teacher, myself, though that career didn’t work out. So we might have something in common there!

      1. cricketmuse says:

        I’m looking forward to your posts–

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        I think you’d dig Cricket’s place, Rebecca.

    2. Eli Pacheco says:

      You’re going to love it there, Cricket!

      1. Rebecca Douglass says:

        So…party in Skunk Corners! (that’s where the Ninja Librarian of my books lives).

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        You don’t hear those five words together every day! (But I’m down.)

  7. Joey says:

    Your photos are gorgeous! Camping seems theoretically wonderful. I was ruined in childhood by staying in a cabin with no indoor plumbing. I’ve since vowed to do all my “camping” in a Holiday Inn or similar. I do adore hiking though and somehow fumbled through hooking my daughter on it too.

    1. Rebecca Douglass says:

      Aw…I stay in the woods with no plumbing at all, and haven’t been scarred by it!

      You’ll laugh at us, because we use commercial campgrounds (like KOA) as our “luxury” accommodations for when we need a shower or laundry while on the road. But you don’t *have* to camp to enjoy the outdoors.

      In all seriousness, though, one of the best things about camping, and especially backpacking, is that you are out in the beautiful places at the best times of day–sunrise and sunset. Though I’ll say that our kids usually sleep through sunrise, even now 🙂

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        When we camp at the beach, you get up at sunrise, or you bake like a microwave burrito in the tent!

    2. Rebecca Douglass says:

      P.S., thanks for the kind words about the photos. Some are mine, some may be my husband’s work (we don’t always know in the end what’s whose).

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        You should credit them with a combined nickname, like Brad and Angelina (Brangela. They should go with Angelad sometimes.)

    3. Eli Pacheco says:

      My kids similarly got hooked on fishing, Joey – not literally, I’m glad.

  8. “Love is such a beautiful feeling that born from eyes, resides in heart and remains till the heartbeats.”

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