I started taking the twins on hikes and walks when they were about 5 on a regular basis. We had just joined our Wild and Free group in Dallas and at least once a week we were out in nature, in pretty much any weather. When they began attending a nature school we tried to get in family hikes as often as possible, exploring trails and paths around our city.
Since moving to Colorado I can say that our hiking has improved and become an almost every day thing. I know not everyone has a forest in their backyard, but I wanted to share some ideas on how to get out in nature with your kids, and have fun doing it!
Just Pack Up and Go
If you wait until everyone feels like getting out, it will never happen. Pretty much every time I say we’re heading out there is at least one child who doesn’t want to go, who I have to poke and prod to get their boots on or to get in the car. And once we start the hike that same child usually gives me a bit of grief, but I’m near 100% on that same kid forgetting what they were complaining about and having a great time. Yes, it can feel like an impossible task to get everyone out the door, but truly that’s the hardest part. Get past that block and you’re golden.
Have a Mission
I’ve found that just hiking to hike is not great with kids. They need a mission! Maybe it’s to find a picnic spot, to get to the rocks to climb, or to find as many butterflies or cool rocks as they can. The questions of ‘are we there yet’ are hard to answer when there is no ‘there.’ So make a goal and hype it up! And then, when everyone’s just having fun and doing something different, forget the goal and just enjoy the day. Rules are made to be broken!
Stop and Notice
If your kids aren’t stopping to notice the small things, model it for them! Squat down and show them a flower coming up, have them feel the soft moss on a rock, point out an oddly shaped tree. Then when they start stopping to show you what they find interesting, take the time to pay attention! It’s amazing what different things everyone in your family will notice, you will absolutely get more out of your nature walk when you all take the time to really see the world from one another’s point of view.
Download a Nature App or Carry a Good Field Guide
After everyone starts noticing all that beautiful nature, they’re going to start wanting to know what it is. Either invest in a field guide or download an app. We love iNaturalist, PlantSnap, and the Merlin Bird ID. All of these are great because you can take a picture and then use their database to find what you’re looking for and then get a lot of information right then. Especially handy if you’re new to this and nervous about your kids possibly touching a poisonous plant (or finding a poisonous snake!). Everyone learning together is a great way to feel more confident the next time you go out.
Have the Right Gear
Chris and I joke that Colorado is all about the gear. People here are serious with their hiking! I don’t think you need all the things, but make sure you’ve got the right shoes, water bottles, some snacks, hats and sunscreen, and layers to put on or takeoff as needed. I usually keep a bag stocked and in the car with extra socks, mittens, and hats, and then a couple of plastic bags to wrap up clothes if it’s summer and we happen to find a stream to play in.
My last piece of advice is to start small. A walk around the neighborhood, a paved trail that makes a loop around a lake. Don’t venture out on a 5 mile hike for your first go around! Get everyone used to the idea and gradually build as you go. And if you find yourself in the middle of a longer trek and everything seems to be going wrong (we had a horrible incident with fire ants once), it’s ok to call it! Turn around and head back and later you can play up the adventure and laugh at your lousy luck. Learn from it and you’ll be more prepared the next time you head out. Your kids will take your lead on the experience, so show them it’s ok to call it quits but it’s absolutely worth getting out again!
I hope you get outside, whether it’s a manicured park or somewhere more wild. I can honestly say every city has somewhere, living in Dallas we were constantly finding places to explore that were sometimes hidden right in the middle of the city. Use this time of being at home together to start a new habit of nature walks and I promise everyone’s spirit will be lifted and your kids will cherish the memories of exploring with you.