Making recollections within the open air could be as simple as hanging a match


“Outside” is self-explanatory: Get out of the house. Yes, but how many people actually do outdoor activities? Do you remember the toy you got for Christmas when you were six? Probably not. I bet you remember the first fish you caught. We remember memories, not things. Reminders are cheap and easy to make; Most are made from home with little or nothing.

Family times are the most important of all. In a world full of single parents, one of the more important aspects of a child’s life is to get outside. Outdoor recreation can be expensive or mostly free. It’s as easy as walking the dog…or just walking if your household is dog-free. The key is to make it a family day out, not, “Hey Bobby — take the dog out to pee, okay?”

Alaskan days are short, decent LED headlights cost less than $10. Take your kids on an expedition around the farm looking for tracks when nothing else is readily available. Vole tracks and squirrel tracks are usually easy to find.

Place a bird feeder on an outside windowsill. An automatic feeder can be as simple as a cut up shoebox stapled to the doorstep. Stores sell high-performing feed for chickadees and birch toes. This is not a requirement. Birds of many species come to dried bread, bacon and other household waste. Red squirrels, the bane of most bird watchers, thrive on almost anything and are interesting critters on their own hook. Magpies quickly learn to knock on the window if you haven’t replenished the food supply. It doesn’t matter what wildlife attracts you; it is the fact that you are bringing “new to you” life into the world of your family.

Another inexpensive activity is sledding. Children’s sleds are cheap. A piece of Visqueen or even a large garbage bag will also do. All you need is a rock-free slope. There are shops that stock used sporting goods. Used places are also excellent sources for used skis and skates.

An ice rink can be built in the backyard. Remove snow from any flat spots, spray with a garden hose to seal the bottom, and allow to freeze. Then add a little water every day until you get a smooth surface. Who knows – maybe your house is home to a future NHL star. Scotty Gomez was from Alaska after all.

One of the most popular and practical activities is making a fire. A few years ago I took some young kids into the woods for a program called Dads Night Out. We didn’t go far into the trees (it was February) and stopped to make a fire. Each child had a single match, some string, and some wire in a Ziploc bag. They watched a fire building demonstration and were then sent to gather materials for their own fire. All children were successful. When the fires were all happily burning, we grabbed our headlamps and searched for animal tracks. The boys, aged between 6 and 10, then learned how to make a squirrel snare with their piece of wire. These youths learned to make snares and fire, but what they built was a memory.

The only price to pay for these experiences outside the home is time. And… you don’t have to be 10 years old to enjoy them. I’m a little over 10 and heck I still have fun doing these things. An outdoor camping trip 20 feet from the back door can be a hoot for both kids and adults. No tent? It’s good. Dress as best you can, gather a large pile of spruce branches as a base, and throw a blanket over it. Make a small fire (not too close to the branches), toast some marshmallows, then lie down for a nap. Kids can pretend to run the Iditarod and nap alongside their dog team.

A few 30 minutes of sleep and everyone runs freezing cold inside and jumps into a nice warm bed. With the camp right outside the door, the experience remains enjoyable. You’re not building toughness here – you’re having fun and creating memories.

The picture should be clear. I remember my first trip ice fishing and my first descent down a gravel hill on a pair of old cross country skis. Neither of them were successful, but both gave me something to build on. Age doesn’t matter at all. You build memories – go out and make one that will last.