Possibly the best way to get your children to become stewards of the earth is to get them outdoors from an early age. Once they become old enough, hiking local trails is a great physical activity that gets your family moving while seeing and appreciating nature. If you’ve never hiked local trails, there are several that are truly a treasure, and fall is the perfect time to discover them. My husband and I have spent many of our recent vacations hiking and backpacking, and it’s unbelievable how well-maintained trail systems can be; many are even handicap accessible. While hiking with your kids, there are a few activities that can enrich the experience.
* Finding colors in nature. One of the most wonderous parts of our natural word is the vibrants colors found in plants, animals, water, and the sky. The leaves in Missouri have been unbelievable this year. You can use phenomenon such as the leaves changing to your advantage. Let your children take turns picking a color, and everyone must find a set number of things of that color. The winner picks the next color.
* Treehugger. Preface your hike with a short lesson on different types of trees. The Arbor Day Tree Guide is a good resource. While hiking, call out a type of tree. Each child has to find (and hug!) a tree of that type.
* Bingo. Before a hike, have your kids brainstorm things you might find in on a hike: an oak tree, a robin, a tent with hikers, a bridge, etc. Turn those ideas into bingo cards (bonus points for a craft project!), then take them on your hike and play bingo sweets as you go.
* Trash collection. Okay, some parents might hate me for this. While hiking, teach your kids about responsibility, even when other people might not. I hate seeing aluminum cans, plastic bags, granola bar wrappers, and other human artifacts on beautiful trails. Because so many hikers take great pains to “leave no trace”, it’s upsetting to find litter on the trail. Designate a special hike to clean up the trails that you love. You can reward children for collecting a certain amount of trash. Talk to your children about “leave no trace” principles and why they are important.
[This post was written by Kelli Best-Oliver]