To the Woods!
Getting outside with young children sounds easy enough, right? Here are a few points to considerations before you grab your walking stick and head to the woods.
I mean, it seems like there are two options for the weekend: stay home or head to the trail. Since you’ve got nothing but time at home, I suggest finding a trail near you! Plus, heading out to the woods h
as so many mental health benefits, something we all could use right now. Even if you’re not an outdoorsy person or if you’ve never hiked before, I promise you that you can do it!
As a kid I had gone to summer camp; I had taken outdoor education in high school; and I had taken an occasional overnight camping trips with friends in my early 20s. I knew I wasn’t outdoorsy per se, but I could walk the walk and wear the gear. So when I turned 30 and met my husband, Greg, we moved out West to the mountains. My husband loves to hike and I loved the idea of hiking so it was perfect, right? Well, not so much.
Greg has extremely long legs – he’s 6’5”. One of his strides is at least two of mine. When we started hiking together, he would take me on hike he knew well. We never tried anything extreme. We went for distances that I could easily walk, but that was without taking altitude or terrain into account. Greg’s method of encouragement was to tell me that our destination was “just around the next bend” regardless of the truth. We would get around the next bend and be surprised that we still had some mileage to cover before we arrived at the trail’s end.
On these hikes, let’s just say I didn’t always present my best self in response. I would stomp my feet, demand snacks, and even declare that I would not be going any farther. I would essentially act like a toddler. So if you’re new to hiking and you have a toddler, you’re darn right to be a little nervous. It’ll all work out, you just have to take it slow and plan properly for those unexpected expected moments.
A few things to keep in mind as you prepare to head out:
No special gear is needed, but be sure to dress warmer than you think you’ll need to dress. It’s always easier to remove layers. Keep a change of pants, socks, and shoes in the car just in case. Plan as if someone will fall into a creek.
When you’re heading out with kids, food becomes even more essential. Pack small snacks that are easy to carry. Each snack can provide incentive to make it round the next bend or over that next hill. I like to save one big or extra special one back at the car too for a grand finale, my preference is chocolate.
Don’t expect to get too far. Especially for children (or adults) who aren’t used to it, hiking on a trail can get tiresome. If you can find a messy tree to sit under early on, you may just want to think of that as your basecamp and park it there for playtime rather than counting the steps.
There is no need to bring toys or look for playground equipment. As I said above, find a messy tree that has nuts, fallen leaves, or other raw materials under it that kids can play with. You may even have to model play by picking up a stick and make believing it’s your wand or cane or whatever! Find your playful side!
You don’t have to go outside and just walk around for a while. You can bring an activity you enjoy- a notebook, sketchbook, reading book, binoculars, fishing pole, whatever it is that interests you in a way that shows your child that there’s no agenda or hurry. You can be there just to sit and hang. Bring a blank journal and some crayons for your child too.
Be prepared to come up with games on the fly. Sometimes you will need a distraction to keep you walking if you do have a destination in mind. You can try a colorful scavenger hunt, a bird checklist, a sing-along march, whatever it is, prepare to get creative and have some fun!
Don’t give up when big emotions set in- it’s almost inevitable that someone will have a meltdown. That doesn’t mean the whole thing needs to be called off. Take a breather, reset, and push through. OR Take a breather, reset, and sit down for a while, turn back, choose a new route. There’s no right answer. Read the situation and choose what’s right for you.
I lead a weekly forest school class that involves a very short hike. Wouldn’t you know that my son is the only child that seems to have a problem with this part? The other parents and caregivers now know to expect my son to cry and whine for the first half of the walk and then totally immerse himself in the joy and fun of it for the second half. I have learned to endure about 15 minutes of “Let’s go home,” whines.
Use an app like All Trails, find a local hikes book, take a drive to a new neighborhood, head a bit out of the city and find somewhere to get lost in the woods. (I mean that metaphorically, don’t really get lost! But on that note: Always leave a note on your dashboard for where you’re intending to go so in case you do get lost, you can also be found.)
So take your time, slow down, and head to the woods! This is the time to eliminate hurry. I mean, where else do you have to be anyway?