Exploring a trail with kids can be challenging. I feel victorious when my girls are observant and bring something to my attention, but sometimes It seems I'm the only one doing all the pointing. However when hiking with school groups and girl scouts, my experience has been that kids are excited to learn about everything they see and are way more observant than most adults. So what's different? Expectations. When I'm leading/ guiding a group, I give them a "look for" and challenge, like a game. After all, there is a lot to benefit from working together on a common goal! This sort of approach was supported during a recent NPR report. Current research is showing that Collaboration and Communication through games is a way to foster "Brillant kids". A perfect example of how this works was when I lead groups of 50+ 7th graders through a nature trail. I had set-up a scavenger hunt with photograph clues, everyone seemed to have fun and the post-assessment showed they learned a lot too! This would be tough to replicate each time for our own kids, but imagine how much we could all take away from a family field-trip hiking with the right resources available?
Mind Your Expectations & Curb Your Criticisms
Before I start on a trail, I like to have a plan, a destination goal to explore or at least be ready and observant for signs of wildlife. The anticipation is a big part of the fun.
Often times the first thing we find is coyote scat. It usually provides a good clue as to what food sources are in season. But, it's an even better day when we encounter a snake skin and can marvel together over the patterning and then do some guesswork as to the species. Unfortunately, it's not surprising when the cell phone rings and we spend 30 minutes talking off to the side of a trail. I smile sheepishly at other hikers, quietly apologizing. Isn't is just easier if we can all be off grid?
On a recent camping trip, we arrived at Texas's 1st State Park with a few hours of light. A small network of trails held at least two attractions and I was eager to get started. However, after 30 minutes of camp set-up and a bathroom break, all my family could talk about was how clean and nice the bathrooms were. They weren't motivated to go anywhere, they wanted to relax and soak in the novelty of camp. So, I hit the trail with running shoes and had a blast on my own. After my run, I was ready to relax, but the girls were not. They just wanted to talk about... things I didn't really want to talk about. I wanted to have 20 minutes of adult conversation with my husband. So before I could think better of it, I challenged them to use the map and find a water tower built by the CCC. I will note here that the trails were well marked but would require that they were observant. So, I sent them along with one of our phones and 15minutes later, they made it! I got a text to confirm. Ten minutes later they were back at camp, delighted to have been trusted and done something on their own, and I had 25 minutes of adult conversation.
The next morning, my 10 year old agreed to join me for a trail run.It was cool and overcast, ideal for outdoor exercise. We started along a trail through the prairie with large bright purple blooms. 5 minutes in, I stopped to take a picture and 2 minutes later my daughter also stops... for what I thought was a moment of awe, to take in strangeness and beauty of the flowers.
But as we started up again, she goes "You know Mom, I only made you stop to have a break, not because it was that cool". I was startled by this statement, but not altogether surprised. This was her first time running with me, I could understand if we needed to slow down. And surely there are ways to entice the reluctant hiker? We would need to set a goal, so before making the next turn along the trail, we reviewed the map together and agreed on a path that would lead to a playground. Perhaps I needed to switch gears and let her be the guide. Not only did she continue to run, but decided to point out every spider web along the trail; this proved to be super helpful, as I avoided a face full of silk on several occasions. Warming up along the trail, she became more animated and observant. Setting a plan together made all the difference.
What is a component of your best laid plans for outdoor fun? Please share in the comments below!