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Getting kids outdoors, for some, can be a struggle. There is more technology available for them now than there were in the 90's. They have tablets, phones, smart TV, and more at their fingertips. Why would they want to set those down to go outside?
As a parent we all want what’s best for our kids. We work hard so they can have things we only dreamed of. Something I’ve been working in with my son is fostering a love for nature and the outdoors. Yes, we argue about putting the tablet down to go outside but he eventually he gets outside. It’s important to show them the wonder of being outside by showing them what is around them.
This year I’ve started teaching my son about hiking. We started with small easy trails because, at the time this was written, he’s five. I’ll share with you how I started introducing him to the world of hiking.
Exploring the world along old dirt trails and small animal trails is a magical experience. You never know what you’ll discover. As a kid, my siblings and I did this frequently. We would travel along a deer trail to a creek situated in the midst of a neighbor’s wooded property. We learned how to avoid briars, look for snakes, identify different plants, and how to find crayfish. We also let our imagination run wild and named a particular area Secret Falls.
Er developed a love for the outdoors that holds true even as adults. While I can’t replicate that for my son living in the city, I can find ways to show him bits of that world.
One of the first things I taught my son before we hit the trails was how to stay safe and be prepared. We packed a small backpack full of items that he would need for a short hike. Of course, he threw in a few extra toys but after I had him try on the backpack with everything in it and told him he would be carrying it the entire time he ditched the toys in the playroom.
In his backpack we put a few band aid, a water bottle, healthy snacks, a sandwich, a notebook, markers, a small magnifying glass, and his book on animal tracks. He wore his lace up boots that would support his ankles and warm clothes. At the time we had just started transitioning into spring.
With the backpack ready we then talked about things to look out for while hiking. Even though it was cold we talked about looking for snakes and what to do if you see one. I told him that if you spot one, stay far from it and slowly move away. Keep your eyes on it the entire time. Snakes are what he’s likely to see here in Oklahoma on the small trails. We did not cover bears and mountain lions during this discussion. There are many other animals to watch out for while hiking but I believe it’s best to introduce them slowly.
With everything packed and a small lesson on animals to watch out for, we loaded up. It was time to hit the trail.
Something to note parents before taking the kids out is to research which trail your going to. Know the rules and what to expect beforehand. I chose a small trail area that is situated near a community park with easy trails. The paths were mostly sand and were used as horseback riding trails as well.
Hitting the Trail
My son’s energy seemed to fill the car as we drove from our home to the small trail area. He had his water bottle in his hand eagerly watching things out the window. We pulled into the gravel parking lot at the trailhead and got out. He looked around at things with a curious gaze. This warmed my heart.
I let my son pick the direction we went letting his spirit of adventure take flight. He was bouncing all over the place and I knew this would zap his energy, but I let him continue. I did make him stop as we came across a prickly pear. I told him a little bit about the plant, showed him the needles, and taught him that they could be used to keep hydrated out in the woods. He was fascinated and gazed at the plant from a squatted position. The one we found was a bit withered from all the cold and rain, but it would return to its normal sturdy position soon.
We continued our path, and I let him wonder through the trees close to the trail. I pointed out plants that I knew and then we used my phone to look up others. We identified fungi growing on dead logs, small herb plants, dried berry plants, and talked about the few flowering plants that had already popped up. I identified some of the different trees as we walked as well. For some older kids there are books available that you can bring along to identify plants. You can grab many from your local library. I’ve used many books from our Metro library to teach myself and my son more about plants on the trails.
Part of getting outdoors with my son to is to help him balance his energy levels. Boys typically have higher energy levels than girls and need that extra outdoor time. He doesn’t do well sitting still and neither do I.
The trail made its way in a big circle around a few acres of land. There were smaller trails that branched off the main trail toward the center that were not as easy to walk. We started our trek on the outer trail and then eventually made our way toward the center on a smaller trail. Eventually we popped out on the other side at the back of the park near the creek. After a small bit of time spent exploring the creek, we hit the other side of the trail to go back.
The trail back followed along the creek, and we talked about what lives in creeks and rivers. There was a steep bank that made it difficult to get down to the creek, so we looked over the edge. I pointed out how some things get stuck around trees and remain there after it floods and made note of holes that snakes could hide in when it warms up. They could have been their waiting for warmer weather, but we didn’t mess with them to find out.
When we reached the end of the trail, after my son complained about being tired since we were going uphill, we parked it at a picnic table near the head of the trail. Here we pulled out our sandwiches for a picnic like lunch. I asked him what he thought about the hike and inquired about what his favorite things were. When we finished, we cleaned up our mess, disposed of it in the proper trash cans, and headed home.
His first hike was a successful one and it inspired him to want to hike more. Currently we are working on the easy trails and learning what works best for us. We’ve also discussed camping, which a post will be available soon on how to camp with a young one and traveling to new hiking areas. I’m also slowly growing our gear to use while hiking and for camping in the future. You can check a few of the links below to get some great outdoor gear.
Thanks for reading and if you’ve got any experiences with first time hikers share your story in the comments. I would love to hear how you prepared your kiddos for the trail.