Heading out on a nature hike with my youngest children is always an adventure. There’s so much to do and see. Over the years I’ve discovered that there are 10 rules we must follow when taking young children on a nature hike.
1. Investigate the slugs.
The first rule of taking young children out on a nature walk is you must always stop to investigate the slugs. Grab a small stick and poke at them, watch the mollusks extend and withdraw their antennae, and show fascinated disgust at the goo left in a slug’s wake.
Of course, you can’t then walk away leaving the slug to continue on its solitary slide across the trail. It must be rescued and left safely in the bushes, so no one accidentally steps on it.
2. Pick flowers.
One lovely aspect of nature hikes is the plethora of flowers lining the path. There are yellow, orange, purple, and red flowers beckoning little boys and girls to pick them.
Little boys will carefully choose the perfect flower to give to the love of their life – their mother. Little girls randomly pick every flower they see to create the perfect bouquet.
3. Collect dandelion fluff.
Once children learn that the dandelion fluff they love to blow is actually dandelion seeds, they’ll want to collect as many seeds as they can. The goal is to fill pockets and hats full of dandelion fluff and spread it all over the front yard just for Daddy.
After all, what could make Daddy happier than to walk outside and see his carefully cultivated lawn turned into a large dandelion garden!
4. Chase the birds.
A few of my favorite spots to go for nature walks have resident flocks of birds. Ducks and geese swim lazily around the lake or come ashore to forage for insects. Seagulls squawk down by the bay and land near the picnic tables to gulp down any leftovers they find.
What could be better for a small child than to rush these flocks of birds and watch them fly away? Or even better, fly up in the air and land a few feet away allowing you to chase them again and again and again.
5. Feed the birds.
Even better than chasing the birds is to feed the birds. Bring bread, fruit, or birdseed along on the nature walk and toss the food towards the birds. Little children can spend hours watching the birds eating and slowly edging ever closer.
Then there’s an even better chance of catching a bird to take home!
6. Throw rocks.
Confident that rocks belong in the water, not on the ground, kids will happily spend hours picking up every one they can find to toss in the lake. Small rocks, large rocks, even rocks so large they can barely lift them get thrown back where they belong – into the water.
Then a child will run out of rocks, so they’ll take off their boots and throw them into the water, and wonder why mom is so upset at watching the boots floating away.
7. Ambush Mom.
Trees which grow just off the trail are perfect for hiding behind. The kids run ahead, dart behind a tree, and assume you can’t see their jacket waving in the breeze.
As you walk by, they’ll jump out trying to scare you. It’s rather fun actually and keeps the kids moving. However, it does grow old as the kids continue to ambush you every few feet for miles.
8. Jump into mud and water.
It is an unwritten rule of childhood that the moment you see mud and water, you must jump in. You must smear mud all over your clothing and go home dripping wet. There is no other option.
After all, there are mud pies to make, slimy dirt to squeeze through fingers, and more rocks waiting to be thrown in the water. Just remember if your kids go home covered with mud from head to toe, you know they’ve had a great time.
9. Use only two speeds.
Young children have two speeds. The first speed is slower than a snail. Kids stop to investigate the leaf falling to the ground. The rocks in the trail have a shimmer of gold and must be dug up. After all, the children have discovered a gold nougat. It takes hours to cover 100 yards.
Then the children switch gears and rush forward. You’re no longer tapping your foot with impatience as the children discover yet another unique blade of grass. Instead, you’re gasping and panting trying to keep up with your little cheetahs rushing forward to discover what’s beyond the next hill.
10. Plan plenty of time.
The most important part of going on a nature hike with young kids is to relax and plan plenty of time to enjoy the hike. Don’t try to rush. Rushing will just frustrate you and your children.
Instead give yourselves plenty of time to pick the flowers, throw rocks, and chase the birds. They’ll grow up all too soon and begin to rush through nature hikes to get back to their computers.
Take your time, relax, and enjoy your nature hike. You’ll create beautiful memories with your kids.
What are your unwritten rules for nature walks with kids?