I love watching people’s heads turn when one of my four kids boldly corrects an adult who is about to do something dangerous and should know better but is ready to act anyway.
For starters, they are polite and respectful in their correction. Then, they ask a question or just simply quote one of the many principles they have learned growing up. My personal favorite is when we are at the gun range and I hear them remind someone that, “there are no accidents just bad decisions when it comes to guns”. What’s humorous about it is that I get to see & hear what I must look & sound like to them as I explain the principles of the outdoors and life to them before they had the opportunity to make decisions on their own. You may be asking why I am writing about principles. The answer is pretty simple. Good principles help you and your kids make wise decisions.
When it comes to the outdoors there are too many variables to know about all the unique things in life and everything about what you may encounter in the outdoors. Think back to every tragic outdoor story you have ever heard, and you will most likely remember dissecting the situation to the point where you ask, “how did that happen?”. What’s sad is how many tragedies are avoidable and that are often repeated. This last November, the family was sitting around waiting to go to school. Someone read out loud all the reports of the folks that fell through the ice that week. One of the kids asked, “how do you fall through the ice if you check it first?” I answered, “they most likely didn’t check it”. They answered, “well, that was dumb”.
There are some things to keep in mind when teaching principles to kids. The first and most important thing is that you live by and explain the principle you wish to teach. Kids are the best lie detector in the whole world and if you don’t live it all the time, they won’t follow it ever. Next, share principles with them when it’s relevant and applicable. I like introducing principles when the kids ask questions. When they ask a question, they are looking for answers and they tend to remember them better. Then when the opportunities present themselves, let them apply the principles they have learned. One of the principles that is forgotten in today’s “be safe” environment is that “responsibility comes from experience, not with age”. The more you allow kids to practice the principles you have taught them, the more mature they will be.
You may be asking, “what about the rules…there are rules”. Yep, you’re right, there are rules. I like to explain it this way: rules are absolutes and are usually limits or things not to do. Principles, on the other hand, are thought processes to help you make wise decisions. One of my favorite outdoor principles that I grew up learning from my dad is “never get cold, never get hungry”. It’s a lot like “be prepared” just with more filling. What I can tell you after thirty years of teaching people how to hunt and fish, not to mention all my time on wildfires in the Rockies, people are happier when they are full and warm.
Some other outdoor principles we teach our kids are: “The outdoors isn’t fair”. “Mother Nature is bigger than you”, “Make decisions based on facts, and when you make a decision act decisively”, “Always tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back and if you change your mind, let them know”, “Always have a buddy”, “Be balanced in all things”, “Leave every place better than you found it and more importantly every person better then you found them”, and my personal favorite “English will help you in life but physics will keep you alive.”
Let’s get back to the morning conversation about people falling through the ice. As the conversations continued, Peter spoke up and said, “they would’ve checked the ice if someone told them to”. As I agreed with him, I remembered the lesson we both learned together the winter before. We were out ice fishing with some friends who we had on the ice several times before.
This time was different because we were on a small trout pond with a creek feeding into it. The other dad told his son to go for a walk to stay warm and so he did, towards the creek. That morning Peter explained to his siblings how we knew to only go where we drill holes, but no one told this new young angler that. He didn’t know. The good news is that when he fell in, it was only a couple of feet deep and he made it out of the water rather quickly. All was good until they got home to tell mom about more than the three trout, he and dad caught that day.
Which gets to one of the most important principles in the outdoors and in life, “Learn from someone, teach someone, and understand together”. There is joy in teaching others what you have learned in the outdoors. Not to mention, when we take the time to teach others about the outdoors, we are not only helping them learn to be better outdoorsmen, but we understand the outdoors better ourselves. It’s really simple; learn, teach, and understand.
Finally, teaching outdoor principles helps us keep the definition of success in perspective. When it comes to teaching kids in the outdoors, success isn’t about limits and size. It’s about having a positive outdoor experience and learning something together. That’s a success, and that is why we focus on teaching outdoor principles to our kids. Not to mention it’s a lot of fun to watch them share the principles they forgot to think through when they got stuck shore fishing…. just like I did at their age.