Raising outdoor kids is no easy feat in the age of iPads, Paw Patrol, Baby Shark, and streaming services. Sharon Calhoun is a Georgia mom doing just that. She and her husband Telvis are co-parenting two little girls, aged six and nine-years-old. She’s been intentional about cultivating a love of the outdoors in her family. We interviewed her recently to see how she has managed to successfully raise two outdoor kids. Here’s what we learned from her story:
Have Your Own Outdoor Hobbies
Before Sharon had her daughters she boldly pursued her own outdoor passions and found new ones along the way. After growing up in a Florida orange grove, Sharon moved to Georgia and spent her early 20s trying out a range of new hobbies. She learned to skydive in 2002 when she was 24 and accumulated a total of 400 jumps over the next few years as she traveled to cities across the United States.
Sharon also built friendships with other outdoorsy women at the drop-zone and through her work. She began hiking and rock climbing as a result. One of her first dates with her husband, Telvis, was a camping trip in the north Georgia mountains. It was his first time stargazing far away from the city lights. By the time she became pregnant with her eldest, Sharon already knew what it felt like to camp under the stars, hike through the woods and jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Having her own outdoor interests and goals gave her confidence and a sense of accomplishment. It also prepared her for the next challenge in her life: raising outdoor kids.
Sharon and her husband maximize the time they spend together in the outdoors by exploring what’s available locally. She started hiking with her girls when they were toddlers. Today, they regularly make the trip to Kennesaw Mountain for family hikes. Kennesaw is a Civil War battlefield and a national park constructed on Creek and Cherokee land. It offers a scenic overlook and family friendly hiking trails—all within a 45 minute drive of Atlanta.
The Calhouns also visit Stone Mountain, a Confederate memorial with ample hiking trails, a ropes course, sky cable and children’s area located in a privately owned park just 35 mins away from Atlanta. During the summer they travel as far as Tallulah Gorge State Park in the Chattahoochee National Forest in order to hike the steep, cliff-lined trails and splash in the waterfalls below.
Try New Things
Sharon learned early on that her daughters have different likes and preferences. Her oldest daughter loves fishing and soccer along with indoor activities like reading. Her 6-year-old loves roaming barefoot, running through the grass, turning cartwheels and digging through the dirt for frogs and insects. That makes it more of a challenge to keep both of them engaged in the outdoors. As a result, Sharon and her husband are intentional about exposing their daughters to a range of outdoor experiences.
So they don’t just hike, they go to cultural events in downtown Atlanta like the Dogwood Festival in Piedmont Park. Sharon also enjoys taking day trips and walking around Atlanta with the girls. She explains that “to me exploring and cityscapes are part of getting outside. Atlanta has ample parks and a very beautiful cityscape.” So for all the moms out there living and working in urban environments, the next time someone asks if you consider yourself outdoorsy the answer is yes!
The weekends are for adventures but they don’t have to look a certain way. “There’s so much to do in Atlanta without having to pay money,” Sharon explains. They’ve visited the fountains in Centennial Olympic Park and gone tubing on the Chattahoochee river in Helen, Georgia. They’ve also done local 5ks together along with apple and berry picking, hayrides and corn mazes each Fall.
Recently, they traveled 3 hrs to Tuskegee, AL to participate in a Legacy Flight Academy “Eyes Above the Horizon” event. Her daughters met a few of the 150 commercial and military rated black female pilots in the United States. For her girls, the event was an exciting reminder that the possibilities are endless! They can try new things and be whomever they choose to be—but it wasn’t always this way.
Let them Fail
Studies show that learning new things is much harder when you’re the only one who looks like you. It’s one structural barrier that presents a challenge for outdoorsy people of color. Learning a new outdoor activity in a non-diverse group can be intimidating when there’s a possibility that their novice mistakes might be misattributed to their race or gender.
There are also years of structural racism which have a devastating practical application: if you are a black child in the United States, it is statistically more likely that your parents did not grow up hiking or swimming. In many cases, they were never taught because their parents never learned. And their parents never learned because of Jim Crow segregation in pools, beaches, parks and recreation areas across the U.S.
One solution is for families like the Calhouns to expose their kids to different outdoor activities while allowing them to grow, fail, learn and play in safe, culturally competent environments. Several national organizations are also pivoting in this direction.
The Boy Scouts of America recently opened their scouting program to all genders in part to court millennial parents and families of color. Another is Hike It Baby, which coordinates 30,000 hikes a year for families enrolled across 300 chapters. They are launching their Littlest Hiker program to help the organization reach its full potential; enabling families across all races, socioeconomic backgrounds, experience and ability levels to get outdoors.
Sharon learned to fish when she was 13-years-old. Her neighbor across the street had a little fishing pond so she went over there to learn. She’s passing the same curiosity off to her daughters. Whenever they vacation near a body of water, they rent poles, bait hooks and fish as a family. The girls love it! They learn, and fail and grow without the pressure of competition or expense of structured activities. The Veteran’s Park near their home outside Atlanta also has a catch-and-release pond which they look forward to visiting.
The message is never that they have to be one thing. Her daughters enjoy trying new things, learning, and most of all—spending time with family in the outdoors.
They Stay Home
Sometimes they stay home! Not every adventure requires leaving the neighborhood or even the backyard. Not all play has to be structured. Not all play requires expensive lessons or gear. Sharon describes herself as a “backyard mom. If the weather is permitting we get outside. We have a wooded area behind our house. We play make-believe games.” Adventure can happen without ever leaving home. They fly kites and play outdoors. And yes sometimes they watch PBS and read books.
For Sharon, raising outdoor kids requires balance. Her partner is an introvert who can spend an afternoon on the couch devouring a book from start to finish. She describes herself as an “introvert with extroverted tendencies. I have to get outside. I need to see the sun and feel the sun on me.” He supports her love of skydiving, even though he’s not interested in jumping out of a plane anytime soon. She supports his pursuits. And together they’re raising an outdoor family!