Hiking With Kids: A Renewal of Life

highground1-new-lgBill Rozday

With suburban living entering a third generation, parents are concerned their children are becoming totally cut off from nature.  In response, they are short-circuiting the electronic realities of current life by deliberately taking children outdoors.  By doing so, they deal with both benefits and burdens.

  1. A great benefit of hiking with children is cutting the sport of hiking down to size.  Many of the most rewarding hikes are child-length -- a mile or two at most.  Preparation and expense -- and parental fatigue -- shrink with the trail length.  Look in hiking guides for listed lengths of paths.
  2. Hiking and reading intersect for children.  A great percentage of children's reading is now nature -themed, with entire publishing houses dedicated to presenting outdoor stories slanted to children.  Childhood hikers are setting out on a lifetime reading trail.  Have them carry along pencil and paper to make their own notes and drawings.
  3. Hiking merges with a host of related activities that make both parent and child more informed.  Take as an example the one-mile hike across the meadow at Shenandoah National Park's Big Meadows Visitor Center.  Simply by walking, a child is a botanist -- milkweed blossoms abundantly here -- an entomologist -- fritillary butterflies patronize the milkweed flowers -- and wildlife watcher -- eastern white-tailed deer jump around in numbers here on summer evenings.  Take advantage of these opportunities by carrying field guides.
  4. Children respect the protective role that parents play on hikes.  Parents should lead the way along the trail, explaining the potential hazards that they are vanquishing.  They should also keep children on the path itself in trouble areas.  A big poison oak plant in the Lady Bird Johnson redwood grove can create big problems for a child, just as Lyme disease-carrying deer ticks in the grassy meadows of Virginia's Appomattox State Park.  Research potential dangers beforehand.
  5. As an educational boost for children, take photos of the interpretive signs positioned along trails so that the information they offer is available later.  This provides a mind-broadening perspective on travel.  Supplement those efforts by saving the nature brochures available at the heads of many trails, as they provide an integrated look at the ecology of these places and shortcut the effort of reading field guides.
  6. By hiking with them, parents allow children to reclaim their bodies from a refined sugar culture, directly countering the childhood obesity epidemic.  Encourage this by giving children every opportunity to hike comfortably, substituting high-quality running shoes for cumbersome hiking boots.  They will be more likely to return to the trail then.
  7. Surprisingly, removing children from the mainstream for awhile into the woods or fields or along the seashore makes them better citizens.  They learn to reduce their carbon footprint by "taking nothing but pictures and leaving nothing but footprints."  They learn to recycle by packing their water bottles back to the car with them.  They learn the interrelated quality of the natural world and transfer that understanding to the people and places they encounter each day.  By hiking, children also learn that educational opportunities are everywhere in the world and are not restricted to a formal classroom.  When a stranger comes around a bend in the path, your friendliness to them will show children how to broaden their reach in life.

The hike might be along the asphalt path to the waterfall along Deep Creek in Great Smoky Mountains National Park; in which case, children will want to skip rocks in the creek.  It might be along the Pacific Crest Trail at Mt. Rainier's Chinook Pass in July, where hummingbirds sip the wildflowers and snowdrifts border the trail; in which case, children will want to throw snowballs.  In these cases, skip rocks and throw snowballs.  Lead your children in the joy of reclaiming their humanity.

Bill Rozday grew up in western Pennsylvania and began writing at 13 years old. His latest work depicts a hike over a California mountaintop once hiked by Native Americans gathering obsidian to fashion into arrowheads.  A poet as well, he has published in periodicals in Scotland and Australia. Bill is the author of The High Ground Books, a hiking series. For more information visit www.virginpinespress.com.

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