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Kids love adventures: here’s how to get them started

A man with three children in wetsuits and life jackets by a water park

Go Ape Operations Manager Jo McLaren knows a thing or two about adventures. She’s been having them all her life.

“My Mum was a natural born camper,” she remembers. “We lived near Newcastle, and my first adventures were in the Lake District. We went camping there almost every holiday. Rain, snow, sleet, gales, even sunshine: I knew them all.”

But the moment her adventuring really took off was when she first tried rock-climbing with her school at Crag Lough, by Hadrian’s Wall. She never looked back, and as an adult led expeditions to the Himalayas, the Alps, The Andes, Iceland and Brazil – to name a few. “There was the odd hairy moment along the way,” she recalls. “Like the time we had to get off a rock-climbing route in the Italian Dolomites in the middle of a lightning storm. But those years really opened my eyes to the world.”

Jo is now Go Ape’s Operations Manager, and has three boys of her own, aged 8, 7 and 4. They’re already adventurers: running off to play in the woods behind her house after school, and (not surprisingly) going ape on high-ropes courses at the weekend. So we asked her what her advice would be for anyone nurturing the spirit of adventure in their own family.  

Here are her five tips

A man and children sitting in the snow with snowboards

1. Love mud

I see a lot of families out on Sunday walks, with their kids dressed in their best clothes. Don’t do it! Let them wear wellies and old clothes instead. They can always change when they’re back in the car.

Get them used to running around on rough ground too. The natural world isn’t covered in pavements, and if your young ones are going to explore, they need to be comfortable moving over tree roots, rocks and uneven footpaths. That’s why - as soon as my boys could walk - I got them out into the woods.

2. Go camping

It doesn’t have to be hard work. Pop-up tents, easy-to-use cookers, airbeds and glamping have all made nights under canvas less tiring for mums and dads. What’s more, none of them curtails that fundamental sense of freedom kids feel when they’re on a campsite. Here at last is a place where they can cut loose and not have their parents constantly looking over their shoulders.

From personal experience, I’d recommend campsites that are close to home. Kids are usually none the wiser, and you’re likely to go more often if it doesn’t involve hours of driving. I’d also recommend persuading a couple of other families to come with you. That way, the children can all go a bit feral while you have brilliant campfire chats (until someone notices it’s after 10pm and everyone needs to be in bed).

The children in wetsuits at the beach with a surfboard

3. Be prepared

Some kids will tell you the Cubs, Brownies, Scouts and Guides are uncool. They’re missing out. My Mum was a Girl Guide. So was I, and my brothers were Scouts too. We loved it. One of my sons is now a Cub, and the other’s a Beaver, and they’ve already been away with their pack – staying in a bunkhouse in the winter. They’ll be going away again soon. It’s affordable, they learn all kinds of new skills and make new friends. What’s more, there’s often no wifi signal, so they get a digital detox too.

They can start early, too. For girls, Rainbows are the first rung of the ladder, starting from the age of five. Boys begin at six with Beavers. Expect to pay £100-125 a year in subs (prices vary between each group), with weekend and week-long camping trips on top of that.

4. Test-drive a residential holiday

We’re also starting to experiment with residential activity holidays, run by companies such as PGL. They’re like American summer camps, but for weekend breaks or week-long holidays; and they’re packed with activities. Everything from raft-building to go-karting is on offer.

Of course homesickness can be an issue with pre-teens. But you can always insulate them against it by teaming them up with siblings or friends. PGL also offers e-Pal email introductions to children who’ll be on the same holiday. And besides, most kids quickly realise that half the fun comes from their new-found sense of independence.  With PGL, a three-day, two-night Introductory Adventure starts from £179 per child.

Two boys in wetsuits in a swimming in a pool beneath a waterfall

5. And don’t forget to try a high ropes course

One of the best things about a high ropes course like Go Ape is that fits so easily into an average weekend. One minute you’re all chuffing along the usual tracks, doing the shopping, helping with homework, taking the kids swimming. Then  - suddenly – you’ll be 12 metres up on a wobbly rope-bridge, a little bit scared but also fizzing with excitement. It’s a great way to open your family’s eyes to the world of adventure without going away on holiday. It’s also a great way to share their moments of fear and triumph - because everyone aged 15 or under needs to be under parental supervision.

In other words, you may well find yourself laughing uncontrollably at the bottom of a zip wire, just like them.

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