Texas Outdoor Family Program- Creates Healthy Parks and Healthy People

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As environmental educators, and outdoor enthusiasts we can sometimes forget how even the simplest of outdoor activities can be intimidating for parents who were not raised outdoors. I’ve worked with many adults who are afraid to leave their tents at night, and others who mistake armadillos for bears in the dim evening light. But that’s where we all start before we’ve had some basic experience. I have the great pleasure of working with a program that teaches these families the basics of being comfortable camping and playing outdoors. By supporting the whole family unit, we can get the parents comfortable outdoors, which means we can reach the kids for life.

Texas Outdoor Family is a Texas State Park family camping program that addresses common barriers to enjoying outdoor recreation. Many of the families we work with are pretty intimidated by overnight stays in parks, but by the end of the weekend, families have redefined their comfort zones and are committed to spending more time outside. Surveys tell us that some of the biggest barriers to camping are lack of knowledge and skills, and time. Texas Outdoor Family helps families not only plan for a time to camp, it helps them manage their time in the outdoors so they can focus on the experience. The workshops also give them the knowledge and skills to overcome their fears so they can relax and enjoy the moment with their family.

During the overnight workshops, families learn the basic skills of pitching a tent and cooking outdoors, but workshops also focus on how to enjoy the parks through activities like kayaking, fishing, and geocaching – an outdoor treasure hunt using GPS technology. Participants also learn how to protect their state parks through good stewardship and "Leave No Trace” principles. In a time when kids are six times more likely to play a video game than ride a bike or play outside, Texas Outdoor Family staff are proud to offer the first step to helping families get outdoors and enjoy their state parks.

"Our first family camping trip was an overwhelming success,” says Tony Williams, TOF graduate and father of two from San Antonio. “My family now has the camping bug! It keeps the boys away from the ‘screens’ and gets them more active.” Other program graduates say they are “very impressed with the program and they (instructors) were extremely informative and knowledgeable which made it easier for first time campers! We loved it!”

The cost of workshops starts at $65 per family (up to six people), and includes camping fees, instruction from rangers, equipment rentals, and all gear except food and bedding. Families with no experience can show up with a few recommended household items and the rest of the weekend will be coordinated by program staff. The Texas Outdoor Family program has helped more than 3,300 families reconnect to state parks since its inception and the program has been replicated by several other state park systems. Workshops begin again at the beginning of September and run every weekend until December 7th. You can learn more about the program by visiting the website or following us on facebook for the latest workshop details.

As the Outdoor Education and Outreach Coordinator for Texas State Parks, I think I have the best job in the world and as I get to work with amazing teams of passionate people. When I’m not working in a Texas State Park, I’m usually playing in one.