Adventure is calling: why getting outdoors is so important for young people

December 04, 2018 5 min read

Here at Vertebrate Publishing, our motto is inspiring adventure. Our titles aim to ignite that wondrous spark and encourage people to discover all that the great outdoors has to offer. From climbing boulders to summiting mountains, walking routes to fell running, or even simply taking in the visual beauty of nature on a quiet, bright day, the outdoors has something for everyone.

Oftentimes, our adventurous spirit begins as a young child – when our imaginations are ripe and our inquisitive minds want to see, do and learn. Our fiction imprint, Shrine Bell, is dedicated to preserving and encouraging this.

However, current literary trends tend towards issue-based children’s books, which has seen a decline in the number of adventure books published for children in the last few years.

A recent report by The Guardian looking into themes of children’s literature found that ‘there is a general societal trend – more inwards, more restrictive of the child’s movements, more focused on the self’. This shift inwards has been attributed to an increasing focus on mental health and individual wellbeing: ‘Many deal with things going wrong in families: family breakdown, accidents, deaths, mental health problems from depression and addiction to borderline personality disorders, all of which it will be impossible for a child to resolve as the issues are insurmountable’.

While this new focus on mental health is undoubtedly positive, the chain reaction seems to have caused a decline in outdoor adventure titles, meaning the positive mental benefits of such adventures are being cast aside. In an ideal world, the advantages of both approaches would be made known so that children would be free to explore these issues in a narrative style of their choice.

It is not only this shift towards exploring the issues of the self that has seen attitudes change towards adventure narratives and outdoor play, but the societal shift towards a more technologically focused world. Our daily lives are continuously becoming more and more materialistic – children now have myriad access to mobile phones, TV, tablets and gaming consoles – possessions are starting to take precedence over the possibilities of the outdoors and the joy of adventure. It has even recently been reported that children today are more likely to own a mobile phone than a book!

With that said, let’s take a look at the unique benefits of outdoor adventure time for children:

It’s healthy (in more ways than one!):

We all know the physical benefits of getting our children outdoors (fresh air, working up a healthy appetite, and a stronger immune system, to name a few), but the mental health benefits are just as important: 

  • Having adventures outdoors is commonly an activity shared with others – family bonding, great discussions and new friendships are often made while out exploring and this is a welcome contrast to the more isolating activity of playing on a console or watching a movie indoors. As adventure loving parents, we wish to lead by example, and it is no surprise that the second generation of Vertebrate are into all kinds of outdoor activities: one enjoys doing hikes, gardening, and Parkruns with his mum every week, one is a budding BMX champion, and one is no stranger to remote back packing and mountain climbing adventures. 
  • A can-do, quick-thinking attitude – while outdoors children can learn lifesaving skills, such as key orientation and problem-solving skills, which gives them a foundation to be calmer in unexpected or stressful situations later in life.
  • Being adventurous allows us to take more risks and often enjoy those risks! In today’s world it seems we are becoming more and more cautious as parents – however, children will often relish a challenge! Our author, Matt Dickinson, who often visits schools to talk about his experiences on Everest and his Everest Files trilogyalways asks the children whether they’d go up Everest and most say yes! In fact, the youngest person to reach the summit was just thirteen! The will to explore is there, we just have to encourage it. Outdoor adventure teaches children to be ambitious and gives them the confidence to achieve.
  • Seeing things more clearly – time outdoors, away from life’s little stresses and technological distractions, can allow everyone to see what is really important and appreciate the bigger thingsOur upcoming children’s book, The Goblin’s Blue Blanket, explores this in a charming story about why it’s important not to stress about the little things and to grab every opportunity for adventure with both hands.

Teaching respect and appreciation for the outdoors:

Less self. More world. While, of course, caring about yourself is important, the environment needs our consideration too. Children are the future and the environment needs protecting now and forever. The act of reading outdoor adventure stories as a young child can ignite this essential protective mindset and ensure that our love for the outdoors is never abandoned.

Following on from the recent publication of Robert MacFarlane’s The Lost Wordsa beautiful book which stands against the disappearance of words used to describe nature from a child’s vocabulary, there’s been a lot of talk about educating children by taking them out into nature. It is a worrying trend that some children cannot identify certain plants, trees, wildlife or birds. If they cannot recognise them, how can we expect children to grow up and protect them? It is more important now than ever to reignite this admiration and understanding of nature.

What’s more, we can lose this key caring trait as we grow older and become encumbered by life’s abundance of distractions. Our Waymaking book is all about dedicating time, love and adventures to the landscapes that surround us. The women’s experiences in this anthology often hark back to memories of being outdoors as a child.

Reading adventure stories inspires outdoor play:

Children’s adventure books contribute excellently to the fun factor of the outdoors – the characters and adventures in these stories live fondly in a child’s imagination long after the final page. As well as building on their daily experiences, be that stories or other mediums, in the canvas of the outdoors, children can become creators of their own unique stories. I remember countless visits to my local woods as a child with my friends, re-enacting the Winnie the Pooh expeditions I had enjoyed reading at bedtime.

Our latest children’s book Popcorn-Eating Squirrels of the World Unite!, celebrates the boundless nature of a child’s imagination. To quote its award-winning author, Matt Dickinson: ‘It’s a pure flight of the imagination with no limits on craziness and bonkers stuff!’

There are endless possibilities and inspiration is a mere page turn away – let their imagination run wild!