According to Paul Tough, author of “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character,” the qualities kids need for success aren’t taught in a classroom. Instead, Tough identifies a very different set of skills he believes are crucial to success and kids, including perseverance, curiosity, resilience, optimism and self-control. You and I might call them “character skills.” Tough calls them “grit.” And if you’re trying to figure out how to develop grit in your kids, outdoor sports are a great place to start.
To develop grit in your kids can be as simple as heading outdoors!
Avid4 Adventure’s mission is to provide kids with the skills and confidence to choose active outdoor lifestyles. Through authentic outdoor experiences, campers learn not only technical skills for kayaking, rock climbing, canoeing, hiking, and biking, but the types of skills Tough talks about—specifically how to develop grit and determination. We do it through an approach we call "challenge by choice."
Alex was 7 years old when he signed up for most of the summer at one of Avid4 Adventure’s day camps. On the first day of camp, Alex spent the day 10 feet away from his group because he was having trouble engaging with others. Throughout the week, Alex’s instructor gave him choices about joining the group or choosing another activity, and, by day 3, Alex felt empowered enough to join the group.
Challenge by choice means that everyone has their own comfort zone, and stepping out of that zone looks different for every person. Using challenge by choice principles, kids are empowered to decide if and when they’re ready for a challenge. Instructors give kids the skills they need to face a challenge and encourage them to push their boundaries, but kids are empowered to decide how far they want to stretch. Challenge by choice is one way in learning how to develop grit.
For week 2, Alex was signed up for mountain biking camp, but actually couldn’t ride a bike. His one day of biking at multi-sport didn’t quite get him there, and he was more comfortable walking the bike than riding it. Alex decided to move back to multi-sport camp to get more practice.
Here are just a few of the skills kids can learn through a challenge by choice approach:
- Resilience: Successful people don’t let challenges stop them—they find ways to carry on in spite of them. Whether kids succeed or fail, they’re learning something from each challenge, and practicinge trying again and developing grit as they go.
- Positive Risk Taking: Risk taking isn’t inherently bad. Kids grow by learning how to assess situations, use sound judgment and make smart decisions as they take appropriate risks.
- Critical Thinking: Think about the value of a skinned knee. When a kid skins their knee, they can learn to circle back to the decisions that led to it. It’s the type of critical thinking can only be done through experience.
The first half of the summer had Alex failing in most activities, but he showed up every day with a positive attitude. At about week 6, Alex opened up more, and in week 10, after weeks of walking his bike, he pedaled his way along a single track trail for 100 yards at a time!
How can families help their kids keep building these character skills throughout the year? We have some suggestions:
- Encourage unstructured outdoor play. It teaches responsible decision-making, helps brain development, fosters creativity, boosts confidence and inspires self-discovery.
- Empower your kids. When you go for a hike or bike ride, let your child be the leader. Kids’ confidence grows when they take healthy risks and become responsible for their actions. And watching your kids make the right choices will increase your confidence in them, too.
- Support positive risk taking. Kids have to explore new things, discover their passions and go beyond expectations so they can thrive. They need to learn how to make responsible decisions, and there’s only one way for that to happen—you have to let them.
“That summer, Alex developed so much confidence and toughness that even when he fell and got injured, he would pop right back up and keep going. I honestly have never seen a kid fail so many times and keep trying. His instructors always gave him the ability to choose how much of a challenge he wanted, and they supported him through failure,” said Camp Director Ryne Willis. “That’s the beauty of the environment Avid4 Adventure sets up—kids will almost always experience success because they have great support from their instructors.”
Want your child to learn how to develop grit and confidence in the outdoors? Sign up for empowering outdoor adventure camps today.