“Quite simply, when we deny our children nature, we deny them beauty”
-Richard Louv” author of Last Child in the Woods
The appeal to explore the outdoors heightens in the summertime. There is an abundance of opportunity to get unplugged and more connected as a family exploring the outdoors.
When both children and adults spend time outdoors, it can help create habits of mindful observation and an understanding of our natural surroundings through first hand experiences.
I have had many great outings with my four children. As a family we have explored many state and national parks. My husband and I value and enjoy outdoor experiences and we work to share experiences such as camping, canoeing, fishing, hiking, biking, snowshoeing and skiing with our children.
As an adult getting out for walks in nature with my kids has helped me to learn how to slow down and pay attention. Observing the excitement and wonder of simple discoveries through the eyes of a child has given me a new appreciation and perspective of my surroundings.
We have had many great outings — climbing sand dunes, visiting waterfalls, camping on pristine lakes and skiing down snow covered slopes. We also take pleasure in simpler outings, berry picking or even just walking down our rural driveway.
But, along with our wonderful outdoor experiences with our children, there has also been our fair share of not-so-enjoyable “trails of tears” with our own little ones, when they have gotten frustrated or tired when we have been exploring outdoors.
As they are getting bigger and more independent, it is getting a little easier. From my experiences I can share this insight to help you explore the outdoors with your children:
1. Focus on the journey:
Frame your experience to focus more on the journey, rather than the destination. Understand and accept your child(ren)’s developmental level and attention in an effort to share time exploring while making memories in the outdoors. Hiking and exploring nature with young children requires patience and often involves repetition and familiarity.
When you intentionally shift your mindset from the completion of a desired route to the presence of the experience with a young child, your time together can provide opportunity for connection and the development of knowledge and awareness of local insects, plants, flowers, trees and wildlife.
2. Be Prepared:
Invest in appropriate clothing, footwear and gear (ex. rain gear, backpacks and child carriers). Be sure to check the weather. Be sure to bring bug spray, sunscreen, water, snacks, a small first aid kit (with a couple of band-aids) and a camera on your outings.
3. Know Your Limitations:
When exploring with children that are less than four years old, recognize they will have the best experience with shorter hikes and experiences, bigger kids may have the endurance for longer outings. Notice and recognize your child’s accomplishments, in efforts to boost their self-confidence on the trail.
When camping you may want to start small — maybe even an overnight in the backyard, then graduate to car-camping before you try a back country experience.
4. Timing is Everything:
Make sure your child is fed, well rested and hydrated if you are going to expect them to put a lot of energy into your outdoor experience. (This advice is very applicable for adults as well.) With the right equipment and timing your little one could nap in a backpack baby carrier or stroller while you enjoy outdoor activities with your older children.
Like anything, some days will be better than others. Don’t let one tantrum in the woods keep you from trying again. Focus on the positive experiences and take it from me, someone who makes a strong effort to get outdoors with her four kids, that exploring the outdoors with young children may not be easy, but it is possible, important and fun!
5. Stay Active:
My oldest child of my four children is now 12 years old. After years of carrying my babies and close to home adventures, the parameters of our adventures are expanding with my children’s built strength and endurance.
My daughter can now outrun me and my three boys are not far behind. I have reached a point in my parenting career where I have to work hard to keep up with my children! I now have to work intentionally to stay fit and active myself so I can continue to enjoy adventures with them.
To those of you who are parents of little ones — take note of this — make the effort to instil a love of outdoor adventure while they’re young, and it’s guaranteed to pay off in the future.