Enjoy the outdoors as a family:
Before Amelie was born Andrea and I talked about how we still wanted to be able to get outdoors into nature when we had a child so I thought I’d share some of our tips on how we now enjoy the outdoors as a family.
My passion for landscape photography leads a lot of our expeditions but we are also lucky to live in a beautiful part of the world. We used to spend full days exploring forests and on mountains trails (searching for ‘the shot’). These days we have to pick our moments and be realistic with what’s possible for our 5-year-old mountain goat.
Whilst we’ve been fostering an appreciation of nature and being outdoors in Amelie since she was a small, it’s not always easy to persuade her to go on a hike.
Like all of us, she has more energy some days than others and we have been known to give up on a hike and just go to the playground instead. However, most of the time, just letting her know that she’s going to have a nature ‘check list’ to complete during the hike is enough to get her running for her hiking stick!
Most people agree that the best way to share your love of hiking and the outdoors with your little ones is to get out with them as much as possible from a young age. We started with Amelie in a baby carrier when she was a tot and got her out and walking as much as she could manage from when she was two.
Now she’s walking on her own we have to keep a very close eye on her and point out any potential dangers. She’s not allowed out of our sight and always has to hold hands on difficult mountain or forest trails.
With our zero waste picnics we instil in her the importance of taking out of nature everything we take in & often other peoples litter too – leave nothing but footprints.
There are 10 simple tips that work for us to make our expeditions a little easier. Although we are not perfect and still forget about some of these ourselves I thought I’d share them here.
1 – Be Realistic
Start with short hikes be patient, plan for plenty of stops and take it slow. Make sure you have plenty of time to stop and investigate all of the fascinating sticks and stones your little one will find on the way! Hopefully you’ll leave with good memories rather than attempting too much and risking a meltdown (this goes for parents too).
2 – Snacks & Water
Never start the walk hungry and take plenty of snacks & liquids. This one sounds so obvious but we but still manage to misjudge timings for our picnic and all end up grumpy until we can find a good spot to stop. It’s also essential to keep hydrated by taking enough water.
3 – Be Prepared
Dress in appropriate clothing for the time of year and your location. Always take a waterproof jacket with a hood, a hat, sunglasses and gloves. Take a change of clothes in case of accidents or for the kids to be clean and dry on the journey home. Make sure your children have the proper shoes. Finally, always have a minimal first aid kit, sunblock and insect repellent handy.
4 – Describe your Itinerary
Let your little one know if you are on a circular walk or are heading to a specific destination. Amelie used to get a bit distressed on walks when she realized we were heading away from the car and wanted to turn back. On circular walks we realised we could just tell her that we were actually already heading back to the car but just on a different route. On a walk to a destination or viewpoint we used sweet snacks, like homemade cookies, as a reward when we reached it. We also distracted her by telling her how good it would be when we reached the destination (usually the picnic spot) she was then able to relax a lot more and enjoy the walk.
5 – Make it fun
It sounds obvious but we sometimes get so absorbed in the logistics of getting somewhere and finding the way that we forget to turn the walk in to a game. Just playing a game of I Spy or taking the time to climb trees or balance on logs can make the difference between a successful outing and a disaster.
6 – Use nature checklists
This has been our best discovery. Amelie always takes her own little bag on walks now with her checklist in, a pencil and a small piece of card to lean on. We always give her a checklist, which has things to spot on the walk, things to hear or smell, things to count and things to find.
7 –Take discovery items
We find it really helps Amelie to engage in the walk and learn at the same time when she has her magnifying glass, bug viewer or binoculars with her. Likewise, getting her to take photos of things she finds along the way is a great way for her to document what she finds interesting. Autumn is a great time of year to collect colourful leaves along the way, which can be made into art when we get home.
8 – Creative story telling
We have rediscovered the magic of nature that we both remembered from our childhoods and have been able to share it with Amelie on our long walks. It’s reminded us that for children, it’s all about the journey, not just the destination. For example, we make up stories about the woodland fairies that live in the fairy house holes in the moss under the trees and have fairy parties every night in secret areas in the woods (that’s why they sleep all day and we never see them). Classic fairy tails or stories from her favourite books can also be brought to life on the trails too.
9 – Teach them to observe
Pointing out all of the natural wonders that you see will develop a sense of curiosity and passion for nature. Simple plants, spider’s webs or rock formations aren’t always exciting for us but Amelie is always fascinated and spends ages investigating. We also love finding fallen trees on our walks so we can count the rings and guess their age. Teaching her about the delicate eco systems and the interdependence of all of the plants, insects and animals is already helping her to develop a sense of respect and appreciation for the natural world.
10 – Take a friend.
We find that Amelie will walk further for longer and enjoy the walk even more when she has a friend along with us. They keep each other company, explore together and help them to keep their energy levels up. Plus we love spending time with our friends outdoors too.
Bringing the magic and wonder of nature to children is so rewarding for everyone whether it’s in the forest or the local park.
It is also important for us to spend as much time as we can outdoors and away from our busy schedules. As the snow has started falling in the mountains this weekend we are now looking forward to the winter.