— by Mary Quattlebaum
Go take a hike! And autumn, with its changing leaves, is the perfect time to do just that. Parents and educators can hit the trail with kids or just stroll with them to visit a nearby tree.
No matter the length or level of vigor, such walks help kids both “connect with nature and establish and maintain a lifetime of fitness,” says Dr. Gregory Miller, President of the American Hiking Society. The organization encourages active, safe outdoor fun, and its website www.americanhiking.org is a wealth of information, including a tipsheet on the 10 Essentials of Hiking.
Miller loved hiking and exploring as a child in California. His dad, an avid outdoorsman, shared his passion and skills with Miller, who in turn, has shared them with his children, Devin, 22, Jason, 20, and Priya, almost 16. The family has hiked in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, but Miller especially treasures the places they’re able to visit more frequently, including the Scotts Run Preserve in their town of McLean, Va. To be memorable, he says, a hike doesn’t have to be in an exotic locale. Giving kids the chance to play in the woods and regularly explore their “nearby nature” can be just as—if not more—engaging and pleasurable.
Like Miller’s dad, mine has long reveled in the natural world. And being able to thank him for sharing his knowledge of and appreciation for nature with his children and grandchildren has been my greatest joy in writing the three books in the Jo MacDonald series. The pond, garden, and now forest in Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods were all part of my childhood home—places my six siblings and I could play in and care for throughout the seasons and years.
As a parent and environmentalist, Todd Christopher speaks to the impact of such experiences: “For children, it’s [often] not about the scale or grandeur of the setting—it’s more about the intimacy of the experience. Something as simple as discovering animal tracks in the mud, or spotting an owl flashing through the trees, or finding a caterpillar feeding on milkweed leaves can qualify as a big adventure for a little person.”
As a child, Christopher’s favorite outdoor spot was the woods at the end of his street. This seemingly “small and rather ordinary” place was a “wonderland of trees to climb, birds to watch, and forts to build,” he recalls. Christopher encourages such regular connection with “nearby nature” in his book The Green Hour: A Daily Dose of Nature for Happier, Healthier, Smarter Kids. He’s taken his own children on amazing bird-watching trips to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, Pa., but he feels that Leila, 9, and Elijah, 12, will just as happily remember the familiar wooded parks of their childhood, places where they have often picked wild black raspberries or hiked beside a stream.
Giving kids the opportunity for playful “green time” can be a challenge in our increasingly hectic, scheduled world. But as Miller and Christopher point out, the best kind of woodland experiences need not involve faraway trips or expensive equipment or even much time. Such experiences may be as close as the nearest park or clump of trees.
For additional information on kid-friendly walks on the wild side:
- American Hiking Society www.amhericanhiking.org
- The Green Hour: A Daily Dose of Nature for Happier, Healthier, Smarter Kids by Todd Christopher (Trumpeter Books).
- Activities related to Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods (Scroll down to Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods.)
Mary Quattlebaum is the author of Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond, Jo MacDonald Had a Garden, and Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods and other children’s books. www.maryquattlebaum.com