TGSG Note: I am thrilled to have Peter Kobel featured as a guest blogger today. Peter is a writer and activist I admire very much, and a dedicated dad who is helping his daughter learn and thrive in meaningful ways. I hope you will put his tips into practice soon! See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru
Having lived for two decades in New York City, there are few things I enjoy more than a walk in the woods. Sometimes I tromp along and zone out to the sound of birds or water, and other times I concentrate more on the things around me — some spring flowers, say, like wild geraniums or trilliums. When I’m with a friend or my dog, it’s fine to space out and ramble. When I’m with my daughter and her friends, however, I know that I need to be much more present or things can quickly get … out of hand.
Don’t get me wrong. My daughter, Liv, who just turned 12, loves animals and nature. I started a chapter of Jane Goodall’s international youth organization, Roots & Shoots, at her school, and she was a founding member. Most of her friends are nature freaks too. It’s just that hiking with kids requires more planning than just grabbing a rucksack, filling the Sigg bottle and grabbing a bag of gorp.
My moment of enlightenment came a couple of summers ago when I was climbing Mount Hunger in northern Vermont with Liv, her friend, and her friend’s mom. It was one of those perfect Vermont summer days. But in just minutes, the whining began (I’m not saying who). It’s hot. I’m tired. I’m thirsty. Can we go back now? Kids who wouldn’t think twice about running endlessly up and down a soccer field are suddenly … exhausted. We made to the top (eventually) and made it back down. But I learned a few things along the way.
Anyway, I now have some rules for successful hikes. They don’t involve gear or clothing or sunscreen. I’m pretty sure you can suss that part out. They’re about strategy for a fun and healthy and maybe even educational outing.
1) Have a goal. In general, at least until a certain age, mountaintops aren’t that impressive. “You can see all the way to Canada” may well be met with a “Whatever.” A pond, perhaps luckily full of frogs, a waterfall, a swimming hole or the remains of an old bridge are much more motivating.
2) Get a trail guide book. There are lots of them. A book like “The Best Day Hikes in (fill in the blank)” will give you a destination and interesting stops along the way. They’re often full of factoids on history or nature. (You don’t even need to bring the book, just Xerox the section on the trail with map.)
3) Get some nature guides. Again, these are myriad and really add value. I still love the Golden Guides to Nature that I grew up with, and they’re very kid-friendly: flowers, birds, amphibians, etc. (I treasure my dog-eared copy of “Flowers,” copyright 1950.) There’s also the National Audubon Society Pocket Guides , which are small (like the Golden Books) but on a slightly higher reading level. (If I’m emphasizing books, it’s because I know children have a deep desire to learn about nature.)
4) Plan a game or activity. Who can identify the most trees, birds, flowers? Another great activity that even adults can enjoy is collecting specimens for a plant press. They are easy and inexpensive to make. If they are going to preserve plants, the kids should take notes on where the plant was found, what its habitat was like, etc. They can identify the plants later.
5) Make sure there’s a reward. You’ll want to have plenty of snacks and drinks on your hike. But plan a nice post-hike stop that the kids can look forward to. After summiting Mount Hunger, we stopped off (this is slightly embarrassing) at the Trapp Family Lodge. As the sun set, the kids had desserts, while the adults enjoyed a glass of Grüner Veltliner. Even adults need a reward sometimes.