Nature Walks: Get outside with your kids

TwinGlensforsythia

Spring is here, with summer just around the corner. It’s a great time to get outside! Taking a nature walk with your kid is a great idea – you get to spend time together, while enjoying the beauty of nature. You get exercise, and a chance to talk and connect with each other.

Getting to explore and exercise outdoors is good for kids, who don’t get much of an opportunity these days to get in touch with nature.

According to a recent Nature Conservancy survey, the amount of time kids spend outside varies widely, and goes down as kids get older: preschoolers spend about 12 hours a week outside, but 16 year old teens spend less than 7 hours a week.

How do parents feel about that?

The survey says 65% of US parents see it as a “very serious” problem that kids are not spending more time outdoors. 82% view spending time in nature as “very important” to their children’s development, second only to reading. 83% think that time in nature leads to improvement in the classroom.

What keeps kids indoors?

According to the Nature Conservancy survey:

  • homework (US, France and Hong Kong)
  • children’s discomfort with being outdoors – too hot, rainy, the presence of bugs, etc. (US)
  • crime and gangs (Brazil)
  • a cut back in recess (China)

What can parents do?

The survey says, “children are much more likely to be outside with a parent or guardian than a friend, teacher or extended family member.”

Then there’s Richard Louv’s 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, which states kids are in danger of Nature Deficit Disorder. According to Louv:

“sensationalist media coverage and paranoid parents have literally “scared children straight out of the woods and fields”, while promoting a culture of fear that favors “safe” regimented sports over imaginative play.”

Then there’s the documentary Project Wild Thing, which reports that UK kids’ “roaming distance from their homes has reportedly decreased 90%  in the past 30 years.”

Get outside!

Grab your kids, and go take a nature walk – but be prepared.  Or you could end up like the well-intentioned-but-unprepared dad who was recently rescued after spending over 3 days lost with his 2 kids, on what started out as a quick day hike.

Plan ahead:

  • check the weather forecast before you go
  • wear comfortable clothes, appropriate for the weather
  • wear good, sturdy hiking/walking shoes – no flip flops – sneakers or sturdy sandals
  • think about how much time you have: all day? a couple hours? 30 minutes?

Bring:

  • small backpack
  • water (for each person)
  • sunhat (for each person)
  • light jacket (for each person)
  • sunscreen
  • bandaids
  • snacks
  • wipes
  • kleenex
  • bug spray (if needed)
  • asthma medicine and/or epipen (if your kid might need it)
  • If you plan on going swimming, bring a swimsuits. Don’t plan on walking long distances in wet clothes. It’s not fun or comfortable.

Trail safety:

  • Stay on the trail. Always. This means both you and your kids.
  • Teach kids to be careful at edges of steep cliffs, and to watch for loose soil/rocks that could be slippery, and tree roots that could trip you.
  • Walk, don’t run on narrow, treacherous trails.
  • Teach kids trail etiquette – if someone approaches, move to the right so they can get by you; if someone is coming up behind you, and you are going slow, move to the side, so they can pass you.
  • Have a map of the trail with you.
  • Charge your cell phone before you go.
  • If someone approaches with a dog, always ask the owner before you pet the dog.
  • Check each other for ticks after the hike, especially if you walked through any tall grass or brush.

Think about a child backpack carrier for younger kids:

Very young children may not have the ability or energy to go for a long walk. You can use a backpack child carrier for infants (over 6 months) and toddlers up to 40 pounds. Just be sure to watch your step extra carefully, and be sure to dress your kid appropriately, whether it’s put a sunhat and sunscreen, or a warm jacket and hat.

Exploration, fascination, imagination – have fun!

Take some photos!

Take time to stop and look at the amazing world around you, whether it’s a bug crawling along, a pretty flower, an interesting rock. Maybe you’ll find a salamander, under some damp leaves or wood. Or see a colorful bunch of flowers. Or an elegant fern. Or a noisy waterfall. Or a mysterious tree hollow. Or an interesting shaped leaf. Or a huge, creepy spider.

Look and point and touch. But, don’t pick the flowers, and leave the critter where they are – it is their home, after all.

Teach your kids how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly using the principles of Leave No Trace.

If your kids seem to really enjoy nature walks, you might want to try geocaching with them.

Geocaching is a combination of getting outside and looking for treasure. It’s fun, free, and you can find geocaches in both in parks and in the city. You go online to find a stash, and then using GPS coordinates – which you can do on a smartphone – you go out into the world and look for the treasure. Inside the geocache is usually a small notebook and pen, so have your kids sign their names and where they are from. People leave little treasures in the stash – take a treasure, leave a treasure. Plan on bringing a couple small items – little toys, knick knacks, or souvenirs to leave.

For more information:

Geocaching.com

Geocaching 101

National Park Service

America’s State Parks

New York State parks

The National Park Trust’s annualKids to Parks Day is coming up on Saturday, May 17.

Nature Rocks – Nature Conservancy’s global program inspiring families to explore nature

So get out there!

We’d love to hear about your adventures and see your photos, so share them in the comments. Where did you go? What did you see? What memories did you make?

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2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    I had to laugh when I saw this post having just returned from a long walk with my three year old. We explored one of our favorite trails for the first time this Spring and added on an extra hill when she noticed a side trail that went steeply up. I have no trouble getting her out there, but there is usually a lot of trouble when it is time to head home.

    • 2

      llww said,

      I completely understand! At that age, we’d often end up piggybacking them for the trip back home. I also, I’m ashamed to admit, usually keep a stash of lollipops in the car. For emergency encouragement. :)


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