When I was a kid, my dad would take my 3 siblings and me on “mystery car rides”. The concept was simple: he said “mystery car ride!”, we loaded up in the car, and then we went somewhere fun. One day it was the movies, another it was miniature golf, another it was the park. The activities themselves were fun, but not particularly special. What made mystery car rides special was the anticipation, the enthusiasm, and the spontaneity. It was a time out of time, set aside just for fun, with our dad. My memory is surely more rose-colored than the reality was, but the memory stuck all the same.

Routine is good for kids. And for their parents. But too much of even a good thing is toxic. So, in the spirit of mystery car rides, we started “adventure walks” in our family. Like mystery car rides, they’re not planned, and their structure is pretty loose. An “adventure walk” is declared, a destination is chosen (but not shared with the kids), enthusiasm is drummed up, and then the adventure begins. We don hats and sunglasses, fill up the water bottles, grab the hammock, load up on snacks, and hit the road. And if a buddy can join us even better. We go to the park, the woods, the fields, the bar, the coffee shop, wherever. The point is not the destination; the point is being together, breaking the routine, leaving normal time, and doing something intentionally and with enthusiasm.

Galileo tags along, but he’s too young to fully appreciate adventure walks (nonetheless, he’s a good sport). Ramona, on the other hand, loves them. At 3, she’s at that perfect age where the world is every bit as magical as you make it out to be. The fields are full of life (worms, beetles, spiders, and flies), the forests are magical (fairies are hard to find, but their houses aren’t), every tree might be home to a family of birds, and every bush might be home to a family of butterflies.

Adventure walks are good for parents, too. They force you to feign enthusiasm about something as simple as walking around a field, which oddly leads to actually feeling enthusiastic about walking around a field. They force you to slow down (3 year-olds don’t walk very fast). They help you to take joy and delight in the little things.

Taking joy in simple activities – and showing that joy – comes so easily to kids. But since kids are imitators, they eventually end up imitating their parents, replacing their innocent delight in the little things with a blaisé indifference to life itself. Joy gets replaced by boredom, curiosity by stress, spontaneity by routine. They learn life’s skills from us, but they also learn – and copy - some of our worst traits. We teach them to grow up, for better and for worse.

Taking your kid on an adventure walk – or breaking the routine in some other way to spend one-on-one time with them – is good for the kid. They’ll relish in the attention, embrace the mystery, and delight in the time together. But I’m starting to think that the parent benefits just as much as the kids, if not more. An adventure walk reminds you that the big things are little, and the little things – and people – are big.

Does that look fun or what? Would you go on an adventure walk with your kids?