Photo courtesy of Wonder Outdoor School
As parents, we do our best to model the type of behaviour we hope our children will internalize. However, when it comes to taking the initiative to spend time outside and helping our children learn to appreciate the outdoors, it can be a struggle. But research shows just how important it is to make sure children get as much outdoor play time every day as possible.
Studies have also shown that nature has helped people cope with isolation in particular, especially over the past few years. There are a number of health benefits that scientists continue to explore linking the great outdoors to our wellness.
With this in mind, I turned to one of my most reliable sources of outdoor education for insight - Christina Tutsch, the creator of Wonder Outdoor School.
Wonder Outdoor School
Photo courtesy of Wonder Outdoor School
Wonder Outdoor School is an inclusive and respectful community that strives to empower everyone to access the outdoors. Programs on offer include outdoor education consulting, coaching services, one-on-one planning, and custom courses.
Personally and professionally, adventuring in the outdoors has been a capstone of Christina’s life. She has dedicated her career to outdoor education and guiding, most recently as Head of Outdoor Education at St. George’s School. She has lived in British Columbia for the last 11 years and has explored much of it by canoe, kayak, skis, bike, or by foot.
On July 27, 2022, she'll even be doing a FREE online class (Outdoor Play Backpack Essentials and other Q&A) for the Jenny & Andy community.
Christina grew up in Ontario, where I met her almost 3 decades ago. Having skied, canoed and hiked alongside this woman, I know firsthand that her experience and guidance is calming and inspiring.
Q&A - Tips From Christina
Photo courtesy of Wonder Outdoor School
We spoke with Christina to get her thoughts on connecting with nature, the importance of being outdoors, and camping with babies.
Tell us about your experience as a teacher, mother and student of nature.
For as long as I can remember, being in a natural environment has helped me to feel relaxed and at ease. I was so fortunate as a kid to spend my summers in Muskoka and then in middle school I started going on canoe trips in Algonquin park through an outdoor education program at school.
I loved these trips so much and that set my trajectory to become an outdoor educator, teacher and guide. I worked as an elementary school teacher, weaving the outdoors into everything we did and eventually worked at a private school as a full time outdoor educator running programs for kids of all ages, whether it was a day trip to the beach or two-week sea kayak trip.
Over time, I grew my skillset to be a sea kayak, hiking and canoe guide. When I became a mother I decided to start my own business teaching outdoor skills to adults and families to help everyone get outside and achieve whatever goals they want.
For me, being a mother has only deepened my relationship with nature, as children’s sense of wonder is contagious.
What does it mean, to you, to connect with/experience nature?
There are different levels of connecting with nature for me. At a basic level, it’s just paying attention. Ah, look at the moon tonight. Or noticing the wind shift or a flower bloom. However, this connection only gets deeper the longer that I am out in nature.
After five days I find my body relaxes into the rhythm of nature and continues to deepen. Then it becomes difficult to come back to life where I sleep indoors! Long, immersive experiences are powerful but we can connect with nature every day, just looking out the window.
Why is it important for families to get out and experience nature together?
There are so many reasons for families to get out into nature together. The first is physical and mental health. The positive impacts from being outside are well researched; but we don’t need that research to know that we all feel better with fresh air and natural beauty around us.
Also, it’s a time to connect with each other, away from devices, we can play and see what we’re naturally drawn towards, allowing us to know each other better. It inspires play, which is so important for children and adults. We get to see non-human creatures like squirrels or seals, which kids love.
Lastly, we are in a climate crisis and I truly believe that we need to be connected to nature to decide to value it enough to change our actions.
At what age is it appropriate for a baby to be brought on a camping trip?
This is different for everyone and depends on previous experience camping, what time of year it is and the health of the baby and the mother. If everyone is healthy, I think that anytime after 3 months is a good time.
Babies need happy, healthy parents and if parents are happy and healthy when camping, I think it’s a great thing to do as a family. In many ways, this is the easiest time to camp with a baby because they sleep lots and can’t get into much trouble crawling and walking around a campsite.
Some consider glamping to be "cheating" at camping. What are your thoughts?
Well I don’t see anything as cheating, to be honest. Language like that contributes to intimidation, gatekeeping and keeping the outdoors as a place that you need to be “hard core” to deserve. That’s not the reality.
I am actively a part of a strong movement that is trying to make the outdoors more accessible for everyone. If “glamping” is what a family needs to spend time outside, then go for it! That being said, some of the value of being outside can come from removing our regular life comforts so that we live a simpler life, more in touch with which is happening in the moment. A lot of benefit can come from that. So, it’s “challenge by choice” - where are you at?
What are your top recommendations for Canadian parks/conservation areas etc. to visit?
There are too many to list! I’ve spent the most time in BC and my favourite places to go are the Tofino/Pacific Rim National Park/Clayoquot Sound area. More inland, I like EC Manning Provincial Park. I also love northern BC and the Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park and Kluane National Park. Banff National Park is, of course, amazing.
In Ontario, I love Algonquin Park and Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Park in Temagami. There are so many areas of Canada that I would love to visit; many more in BC, but also on the east coast of Canada and the north.
What advice do you have for parents who are hesitant about camping with their babies and young children? (due to concerns about safety, inconvenience, etc.)
I would say to keep it simple. Start with a night in the backyard or even just a day. Then go to a campsite close to your house. It’s helpful if it’s a place you’ve been before and extra helpful to go with another family or friends. There will be challenges, but you’ll problem solve and get better with practice and babies will learn so quickly.
As far as other concerns go, narrow in on your concern and come up with a plan. For example, are you worried about bears? Well, bring some bear spray and put all your food in a food cache at night. Are you worried about the baby being warm enough? Bring extra layers and a sleeping pad with a high r-value. Sometimes, we, as parents, need to let go of control and trust that we’ll all be fine and the experience is worth it.
Babies are so adaptable and they will be ok if they have a later nap, get a bug bite or put a rock in their mouth. And, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll do my best to support you.
What are a few things that people don’t know (or underestimate the value of) that we gain by being outdoors?
Peace, connection, health, resilience. Honestly, I think our future on this planet depends on it. Nature is medicine and brings us in connection to ourselves, our family/friends and the planet.
Thank you so much to Christina for answering all our questions about nature, camping, and family. For more about Christina and more information on her outdoor education services, visit www.wonderoutdoorschool.com.
If you'd like to learn more about camping with babies, we summarized some of Wonder Outdoor School's blog posts here!