Outdoor Play - Make Every Walk an Adventure
Helping our children form successful relationships with other people as a basis for getting along in the world is important, but building other connections is also vital—including a respectful relationship with nature, animals and the world we inhabit. Embarking on an outdoor walking adventure is an easy and enjoyable way of introducing children to nature’s wonders.
Sandra Friend, author of numerous books, including The Florida Trail: The Official Hiking Guide and Hiking Trails of Florida’s National Forests, Parks and Preserves, says that many parents don’t realize the wealth of options that likely exist a short distance from where they live.
“County park and recreation offices can provide information on a wide variety of parks, urban walks and other resources that you may not even be aware are close by,” says Friend. “Check your county’s website, where you can almost always find excellent information on these and other resources.”
When she was young, Friend kept a terrarium on her bedroom windowsill, filled with the things she discovered while outdoors. She understands the benefits of giving children the license and space to explore nature in ways that stimulate their own imagination. Friend offers the following suggestions for engaging children while you’re out walking, and turning these experiences into memorable adventures that can help cultivate their inherent curiosity.
Botanical gardens, parks, butterfly gardens and zoos are perfect settings for walking adventures, even on a rainy day. Should a child show interest in particular animals, make repeat visits at various times when the animals are being bathed, fed or cared for in different ways. Between visits, watch a nature video together or explore a picture book about the animal.
Do your research so that you can share facts about the animal’s behavior, colors, diet and habitat. If individual animals aren’t already named, let your child choose his or her own name. Then, as opportunities arise at home, you can bring up the topic of George the Giraffe or Lucy the Lioness, and encourage kids to use their imagination to create stories starring their animal friends.
Keep a Record
Whether it’s on your street, in a nearby city park or in the yard, a single tree can become an adventure all its own, especially for a small child who may not be able to manage long excursions. Make an outline of the tree on a piece of paper using a thick crayon or marker, and then run off multiple copies. Have the little one chronicle the tree’s seasonal changes by coloring them in and by adding the flowers that grow at its base or the birds and squirrels that live among its branches.
Older kids can add more information, such as where the tree originated, its general lifespan and what it’s used for. “You can also carry along a camera to record things you encounter on your walks,” advises Friend. “Then, help your children assemble a scrapbook of their walking adventures.”
Into the Wild
Vacations are another opportunity for family walking adventures. Have kids research the area you’ll be visiting before leaving home, and plan walking routes ahead of time to make the most of your vacation.
Remember, though, that huge expanses of wilderness can be intimidating, especially if you’re not even two feet tall. “Short trails are good for small kids,” counsels Friend. “Make it an adventure by picking a topic before you head out. If it’s butterflies, for example, have your child point out what they notice when they encounter one.”
Make it a Quest
Don’t discount the mysteries and magic of your own backyard. Especially when children are very small, walking around the seemingly vast universe right outside their back door can be the source of some pretty great adventures. Hang a birdfeeder and learn the names of the birds that come to visit. Chart the seasons with their comings and goings, as well as the changes in the nearby plants and various trees.
Older children can be in charge of their own garden plots; strolls to and from watering and caring for them can be a slow excursion to examine the rocks and insects along the way. Just be sure you’re ready to answer questions about everything you see.
Poet, screenwriter and author Debra Bokur looks forward to her daily meditation walks in the Colorado Rockies. She is a contributor to Mindful-Mama.com, a healthy parenting community. Her latest Web-based project is NextPlaneMedia.com.