Go for it!

When Chris Martin decided to take his 6-year-old son, Roardan, fishing for the first time, he was nervous. Martin spent plenty of time outdoors and had already taken Roardan on a few outings, but fishing wasn’t his strong suit. Roardan didn’t know it, but Martin had not been fishing in years — and he wasn’t always successful. Still, he wanted to introduce his son to as much of the outdoors as possible at an early age. He did what many parents would do in that situation, he got online to research some basic knots and fishing techniques so he didn’t look like a complete novice. He decided on a basic bobber-and-worm set up for their first trip.

He took Roardan to Huck Finn Youth Fishing Pond in Laramie, a local spot open to anglers 13 and under. 

After some time with no luck, Martin was worried. What if Roardan didn’t catch a fish? Would that make a long-lasting impression? Instead of continuing with the same unsuccessful method , he decided to ask someone for advice. He spotted a father-son duo who seemed to have the right combination for the fish, and Martin struck up a conversation. The dad was happy to help and showed Martin the fly-and-bubble technique, a method that involves fishing with a fly while using spinning gear. The dad even gave Roardan a fly from his own fly box to help him out. Soon, Roardan was reeling in his first fish.
Martin, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s social media manager, has paid the favor forward many times. After multiple successful outings with the fly-and-bubble technique, he created a video for online viewers to learn it, too. He’s even shared the method with other families in a similar position during his first outing and given flies to kids to try.
Martin, like others who work at or volunteer for Game and Fish, now has plenty of experience inspiring kids to get outside. Like many who love the outdoors, sharing that knowledge can inspire the next generation of conservationists. Whether parents themselves or mentors for local programs, experts weigh in on the best ways to get kids interested in the outdoors.

Get outside
When it comes to getting kids outside there’s no specific activity or age to start with. However, it’s important to engage kids with nature and connect to the world around them.
“I want kids to learn about our natural world and begin to identify with some part of it,” said Rene Schell, Game and Fish regional information and education specialist in the Lander Region. “If they grow up learning about the natural world, they can relate to it their whole life.”Go-for-it-photo-2.JPG
Rene Schell, Wyoming Game and Fish Department regional information and education specialist in the Lander Region, speaks to a classroom of third-graders about Jupiter the owl. Schell said safely showing kids animals is one way to get them interested in wildlife. 

As part of her job with Game and Fish, Schell visits classrooms and events to teach kids and the public about conservation, wildlife and the outdoors. Her experience with kids doesn’t end with her work day, though. The mother of three continues the lessons at home.

“As a parent I have the ability to influence them for 18 years,” Schell said. “I can model what we do as a family, get everyone active outside, hunt, fish and harvest the meat we eat. They grow up embodying those values.”

Ian Tator, Game and Fish terrestrial habitat program manager, said getting kids started in the outdoors is about exposing them to opportunities around them. Although nature can be intimidating for newcomers, introducing people to the outdoors can make it easier and give them life skills for when they get older.

Nobody’s perfect
Like Martin, parents often feel pressured to get everything right when outdoors. Just as parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual, neither does Mother Nature. But it’s all part of the process.
Bruce Salzmann is the director and secretary of Wyoming Outdoorsmen, a group dedicated to promoting the improvement of hunting, fishing, trapping, habitat programs and outdoor experiences for kids and families. He’s active in several mentoring programs through the #WYHUNTFISH program and as part of the First Hunt Foundation and teaches hunter education. Even for an experienced outdoorsman and mentor, he knows there’s always something to learn.
“While I’m working with them, I am still learning,” Salzmann said 
Tator also has participated as a mentor in the First Hunt Program and introduced his children to numerous outdoor activities. With so many options available outside, he’s constantly learning something new when his kids’ interests evolve.
“You have to be adaptable — they may want to try something new, and as a parent you end up learning it, too. Often those interests can change, but exploring the options is part of the journey,” Tator said.
There are a lot of things people can know about nature, and that leaves a lot of unknowns even for those with experience outside. Kids, especially toddlers and young children, may have a lot of questions about why animals behave in certain ways, how plants grow, why things interact with other natural objects and how you know the difference between different plants and animals. These kinds of questions show they’re interested, and it’s ok if you don’t know it all.

“Don’t feel like you need to have all the answers to their questions about nature. Just get outside and start exploring,” Schell said.

If you’re trying something new you can learn together. For Martin, he doesn’t mind being a beginner and learning like he did with fishing. Even though he had to learn on the fly, he enjoyed the experience so much that he’s encouraged Roardan to try new techniques. Now taking his son fishing is one of his favorite activities.

Don’t push it
Once the kids are outside it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. It’s important for adults to consider a child’s interest and abilities when looking for the ideal trip outdoors. It may sound like a great time to float the river for eight hours, but small children may get too hot, bored or create a difficult situation for everyone in that amount of time. Instead, considering what is appropriate for each kid can go a long way in keeping their interest.

Talk to the kids about what they want to do and what their expectations are, said Janet Milek, Game and Fish regional information and education specialist in the Casper Region and a mother of three. They may have a specific activity in mind, or they may simply want to explore. By being outside and selecting the activity or a part of it, they develop an appreciation for the outdoors.

Tator said staying flexible and adaptable is key. Someone can leave the house with a specific plan, but some days don’t go the way you imagined them. Instead of continuing to fly-fish when the fish aren’t biting and the kids are bored, hot and miserable, try adapting by throwing rocks, hiking or finding another pursuit. It’s about being outside and creating the memories, not necessarily the specific activity.

Some lessons and activities resonate with kids even if it doesn’t seem like it did at the moment. Martin has seen it with his son who talks about visiting a sage grouse lek despite only spending 10 minutes at the site before he seemed to get bored. Tator on several occasions pointed out aspen trees to his kids and wasn’t sure if they were really noticing how to identify them or caring about their benefit on the environment, but then he later heard his kids teaching the same things to their friends. By not pushing the issues, the little moments made a big impact.

When it comes to things like hunting, don’t push too hard for the result you want. Matt Lentsch, Worland game warden, has seen several times when people encourage kids to look for the biggest trophy they can find, which can lead to high expectations and disappointment if the child doesn’t accomplish the goal set for them by adults. Lentsch has seen 12- and 13-year olds at check stations with nice deer who are upset about not getting something bigger. Lentsch operates hunter mentor programs in the Worland area to introduce kids to hunting does instead of bucks. He said it’s best to measure success in different ways — looking at if the hunt was ethical and if they learned along the way more than if they harvested an animal.

Pushing too hard in a hunting scenario can create bad feelings toward the activity as well. All kids have a different timeline when it comes to getting comfortable harvesting an animal, and pushing someone before they’re ready to take that shot could stick with them for a long time.

Small bites
Being outside can create a great opportunity to speak to kids about conservation and outdoor ethics. This can be as simple as explaining what dollars go toward when you’re purchasing a fishing or hunting license, or asking what the kids think they should do with litter they spot on the ground. Teaching foundations of concepts to kids when they are younger can help them to make the connection as they get older.

“You don’t need a deep dive into the entire concept of conservation and ethics,” Tator said. “Sprinkle it in over time and it will stick. Kids do start to get the concept of their role in conservation.”

What is most important is to show kids proper ethics and conservation through your own actions. Leading by example is what kids will carry with them the most. Making sure you take an ethical shot when hunting, explaining why you are releasing that fish, picking up your own trash and that of others and not stressing wildlife are all examples of things you can do to demonstrate these concepts.

For the inexperienced
For those who aren’t experienced in the outdoors or lack some specific types of experience, there are ways to introduce kids to those activities. Game and Fish hosts summer camps each year. Camps are available for kids and families to learn about conservation, angling, wildlife, habitat and more. Skills taught at camp include outdoor photography, hiking, canoeing, archery and others. There are other mentoring groups throughout the state, like Salzmann’s and Lentsch’s programs, to teach outdoor activities to kids and adults. If you want to get your kids involved in the outdoors, you can start by reaching out to a local program or calling your local Game and Fish office to see if they can help you or recommend a mentor, camp or event.

“The big thing is that you’ve just got to do it,”Lentsch said. “You can’t just wait around because it might not happen on its own.”

If you’re unable to participate in a set program, asking your neighbors, coworkers or peer group can yield great results.

“Reach out to your network,” Tator said. “Someone in your network likely can get your kids started. This could be family, scouts, church or in your neighborhood. You can even post on social media. If you just start asking around, you’d be surprised how many people can help.”

— Tracie Binkerd is the editor of Wyoming Wildlife magazine.
Photographer Info
Chris Martin/WGFD

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