This post is dedicated to my mama. Who took us on SO many hikes, gave me a love for nature, and who WILL NOT SHUT UP ABOUT THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF CHILDREN AND INDEPENDENT NATURE PLAY. Mom, I love you and I GET IT!
On Father’s Day I arranged a hike for our family to go on knowing it is one of Eric’s favorite activities. Not two minutes into our hike Eva turns around and says, “This is the best day ever, I wish we could just move out here and live”. As I inhaled the clean oxygen, walked clear-minded with my family, and explored, I knew how she felt.
When I was growing up, most weekends were spend fishing with Dad which meant my sisters and I had time to hike trails along the lakes. We loved it. Stopping to look at little animals, making “squirrel houses” out of hundreds of tree branches and pine needles, it was the perfect amount of exploration our minds needed.
Today, researchers are saying that because children are not getting outside, their wellness is being affected in every way. Mentally, children who are outdoors are not just better problem solvers, better in school, and less likely to have ADHD, they are SIGNIFICANTLY more effective in those areas. There are studies that also test the bodily wellness of children who are playing outside, unstructured, results say those children are healthier, less likely to get sick, and have better vision.
So, what might it look like to literally Take a Hike?
Quick Google Search
When you decide you have an hour to spare, do a quick google search with your City Name and the word trail. Example: Iowa City, trails. This should lead you to a site that includes a map! You can also try typing in your County parks, trails. Example: Clark County Nevada, trails. Again, it is going to pull up the trails and usually a printable PDF for you.
10 minute Packing
Choose a time of day when it won’t be blazing hot, when energy levels are up, and not too close to a meal time. We like to go first thing in the morning, or around 3:30 in the afternoon. Hiking clothes and sturdy sandles, or socks and shoes for the kids. Sunscreen, sunglasses, or sunhat and BUG SPRAY. Water bottles, and snacks for after. We love bringing our REAL camera with us. You’ll be surprised that cell phone service doesn’t always come with your hike.
I usually include a full change of clothes, including shoes and some baby wipes for the kids. That way if they want to splash in water, get into mud…I can say yes, without too much car damage.
Know your Trail
Get good directions to where you are going. Know where the trail starts, (close to a campground, a road, sometimes the trail entrances are not well marked from the car’s view), and where the closest parking is to that trail head.
You will want to know if the trail is an “Out and Back” or a “Loop”. An out and back trail means you are going to walk out and turn around and walk back the very same way you came in. Loop, means you’ll make a giant circle and come out where you went in.
You want to know how LONG it will be.
We carried infant Eva on 5 mile hikes no problem. Now our kids are 3 and 5.5 years old and their magic number is a 2 mile hike.
If you are going to a County Park, there will be a Ranger Station you can get maps at, and most parking lots will have maps including trails on them.
Before you start
Decide if you need to bring any water with you, then use the bathroom and put on the sunscreen and bug spray. Be aware of any real protection you might need against poisonous plants, dangerous animals, cliffs, or water. That way if your children run ahead you know if there’s going to be a ledge they will fall off of, or like us on Sunday, our children had to stay on the trail because there was Poison Ivy everywhere.
Allow for lots of exploration
If you can, try not to be in a rush. Let your kids stop and look at everything, let them look independently. If there is mud on the trail, or a branch blocking the trail, or a bridge, let them discover how to get around it. This is a wonderful opportunity for that independent play.
Eric and I both kept saying how relaxing it was for us to be out there with them. It was a 20 minute drive, but it felt like we got away from life!
So! What are you doing this Saturday? Get out there! And don’t forget a doughnut or ice cream stop on the way home!