I have two amazing nieces, E (7) and M (4). Now that I’m around them a lot more, I’ve become the aunt who runs and plays with them. While babysitting, E would say, “Katie, we need our exercise.” And we would run around the kitchen island for about a mile. (Thank you Dora the Explorer for encouraging kids to move!) My brother came home once with me walking around the island with a niece on either foot laughing as they slid around the floor. (In retrospect, I should have sprayed them down with floor cleaner to help clean.)
Yet, E would much rather be inside playing Minecraft than outside. (She totally gets that from my brother.) And she’d rather go for a ride than walk whenever she can. I took the girls to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston once. M was running around (Why did I teach her the ‘You can’t catch me game’?), while E sat in the stroller and watched. When we went outside for a while, E ran around for a good 30 minutes, only to sit right back down when it was time to go in again.
In preparation for a family hiking vacation, we needed to start getting the kids excited about being outside and walking. E is stubborn and if she doesn’t want to do anything, she’ll put her foot down. M is easy going and happy to go along for anything. She does still like to be carried and fortunately, weighs almost nothing, though my brother has trained her not to hold on too tight meaning that you end up will all of her weight.
We don’t go hiking, we go exploring. Hiking is work, exploring is fun. The switch of this one word is massive for E. Play around with different words and you’ll find something your kids will cling to.
The first time we came to a bridge, I asked the girls if a troll lived under the bridge. “No,” said M, “a ballerina does.” Then she laid down to find the ballerina under the bridge. The next time, she looked for the princess that she insisted lived under the bridge. Embracing their imagination as we go along enhances the experience.
Search for Treasure
One of the ways we get the girls excited, is to go geocaching. I look for caches nearby and we head out. Not all caches are easy to find, as most require being off trail and some are the size of a battery. But when E found the first one hidden inside a hold in a tree, she became a lot more enthusiastic. The second time we went out, when we found some little doll that the girls were excited about to trade, they first had a fight over the toy, then couldn’t wait to find another one.
Just as before, terminology matters, we don’t go geocaching. They have no clue what that is. We go treasure hunting.
To be honest, we’ve had to coax E up some areas. She doesn’t like being off trail where the grass is taller and the bugs a bit more frequent. Add in some rocks and she would rather go home.
But we’ve had days when we’ve wandered for hours in the woods happy as can be. And picking out items to leave in the treasure box is healthy. We may trade up, we may trade down. Who knows?
A friend recently told me about letterboxing, which is similar, and may even be better for E, as most seem to be off a road and in parks versus wooded areas.
Get a Badge
On our family vacation, we had a non-hiker with us, which meant that we could leave the kids behind for a while. But we were in National Parks. I grabbed the NPS Junior Ranger books.
She didn’t care much immediately, but while waiting for someone at a rest stop, the girls picked up trash. After coaxing E down a hill, we paused for lunch. I found a spot less than 50 yards away that if we took their picture with, they got credit for the Junior Ranger Badge. E never moved so quick.
She became obsessed and enthusiastically went through the activities with me. We talked about what how animals leave different foot steps and how to tell them apart. (Two months later, she could still tell me why a cat and dog print are different.)
M was on the young side to complete the activities on her own, but when asked to describe what it felt like to touch a flower, she chose ‘cozy.’ Impressive, I think.
As we walked around, we searched for items to cross off. “I see Poop!” was said a lot, especially by M. When we came to access to the river, we went down and ended up seeing tadpoles and bird’s nests under a bridge.
Both ended up being a Junior Ranger for two parks and with lots of swag to prove their accomplishments thanks to the grandmothers.
Use an App
I saw the app Nature Passport mentioned somewhere and downloaded it. I love the different terms they use to create your team and of course the mission to get kids to engage with the outdoors.
The app was put in action when a friend was in town. We went out to brunch with my brother and the girls. After they were talking and I was running with the girls in a parking lot. (Yes, I know not the best activity. We were on the edges and it was quiet.)
After a while, we needed a new task, as running with full bellies is not ideal. (Doh!)
I pulled out the app and one of the tasks (for a badge!) was to create a bracelet from nature. Well, the parking lot had tall grass in it’s green spaces. We happily made bracelets for us and a necklace for the tree.
I used it again while heading out for a treasure hunting trip. We had to look at different plants and try to look like one. A winner with some great gardens around.
There are apps to help you find out about flowers, birds, the stars, and more.
Find Local Programs
As a child, we went to a lot of Audubon Society activities. We would go to a local pond and learn about bugs, plants, and ecosystems in a fun learning environment. Most organized green spaces will have events periodically to encourage people to enjoy the spaces.
Respect Their Limits
This is one area that we’re are working on. We’ve sometimes gone out for far longer than the kids can handle or the terrain was more challenging going off trail to find a treasure than we expected.
Katy Bowman is a Biomechanist and Mom to two little kids, and spends a ton of times outside. She suggests starting with about 7-10 minutes and slowly building how much time you are walking with the kids.
Older kids can also help. M one day sat down tired and wanted to be carried. When I wouldn’t run while carrying her, she wanted to be put down to catch up with E and a friend’s daughter who was playing with us. She went from exhausted to running while calling out, “Wait for me!”
Handling Inclement Weather
It’s been raining a lot around here lately and snow will be coming soon. We can do more outside in bad weather than we think we can.
If we are properly dressed to stay dry with rain coat and boots, we can spend quite a bit of time outside. But running around getting soaked can also be fun for a short period of time. Removing wet clothes and hopping into a warm bath can warm us up quick. Bowman has even suggested in winter, forgoing all the layers to spend 5-10 minutes outside. It takes a while for us to really get cold and with hats, mittens, and shoes, small doses of cold weather can be beneficial. I certainly remember getting into snowsuits only to have to undress to pee or fix socks or whatever. It’ll make hot chocolate, all the sweeter.
Overall, spending time together doing healthy activities is important to my family. Being in nature is healing, encourages us all to think about our place in the world, and can be done at all ages.
Kate Hamm combines her 15+ years of experience in the fitness industry and high-end resort program development into sought after wellness coaching and adventures at AnamBliss. Visit www.anambliss.com for more information on coaching services and future retreat dates and locations.