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.
* 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.
New to hiking in your area? Check out these sites for finding trails of all levels near you.
[This post was written by Kelli Best-Oliver]
Why would parents hate the “picking up trash” idea?
Tahirih Bushey says
I enjoy your blog. This one got me thinking less about my personal life, though and more about my professional one. I have noticed that as soon as I walk outdoors with many young children who have autism, they brighten. They look happier. Parents report that their children love the outdoors. I would like to create a set of “Nature Trail” games for my web site that would allow these children to both interact with nature and communicate in some new ways with their parents but this is hard. Many of the children are apt to run away and have no fear of danger which makes their parents wary of wide open places. Other children are so engrossed by everything they see that their parents seem not to exist–which does not make outdoors quite the right intervention environment for teaching communication skills–which is what I facilitate. Anyway, reading this post makes me want to take on this challenge because I bet it could be done.
Jennifer Lance says
I think it is a great idea to use the outdoors to help children with autism, although I don’t have any experience in this field. From what I have read, the sensory experiences of the outdoors are not as overwhelming to children with ASD, as other more human-caused sensory experiences, such as eye contact and touch, are to these children. I wrote about ADHD and nature deficit disorder for my very first Green Options post:
You may find some useful links in the article.
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