Have you ever taken your kids on a hike only to run into something on the trail that captures their interest even more? A fallen log, a natural dam in the creek, a beautiful collection of wildflowers?
When we first started hiking as a family, my husband and I thought of these as distractions, deterrents from finishing our goal. (To be honest, on occasion we still do!)
But it didn’t take many outings for us to realize that kid-directed outdoor adventures are exactly that: adventures.
Once my husband and I adjusted our mindsets, we found that if we hung back and let the kids take the lead, they experienced nature in a way that they never would if we focused single-mindedly on the adventure we planned.
We began to watch them immerse themselves in nature—exploring it with their hands, not just their eyes and the soles of their feet.
For families who would like to leap from observing to exploring, here are 6 tips to help kids EXPLORE nature with all of their senses.
6 Tips to Help Kids EXPLORE Nature
1. Hang back and let go of your end goal.
This doesn’t mean every outing needs to be child-directed; some outings are best suited for reaching a destination or improving a skill. We do want our kids to practice setting a goal and following through, even when it gets hard.
That said, we’ve found that for our family, variety is key. Just know that sometimes letting go of the end goal or the vision you had for that activity can be incredibly relieving—even liberating!
For some amazing new places to adventure in, check out these posts: 5 National Parks to Visit as a Family and 5 Family-Friendly Hiking Trails in Banff National Park.
2. Communicate your hopes for each adventure to your kids.
When they know what you have in mind, from skill-building to free-form exploring, they will be much more likely to take things in stride.
3. As motivation, know the research.
4. Think of “invitations to play.”
Most of the time, nature does the inviting in our family. All our kids need is a pile of big rocks and their imaginations are off and running. But occasionally, depending on the moods of the kids (and when the last time they ate was!), they need a little nudge.
For that reason, it’s great to have a few “invitations to play” in your back pocket.
- Challenge your kids to see how many different shapes (or colors) of leaves they can find.
- Tell them you definitely DO NOT THINK they could make it across the creek without getting wet. 🙂
- If your family is familiar with the book Roxaboxen, casually start outlining your “home” with rocks.
- Start counting squirrels or deer.
- If you’re at the beach, walk over to a tide pool, gather driftwood to build a small shelter, or start digging a trench in the sand that runs from the waterline up.
5. Keep all five senses in mind.
On your family adventure, challenge yourself to help your kids engage all of their senses. Point it out when you notice the smell of wildflowers (or a skunk!) on the breeze. Point out the different textures of moss of the trees. Some feel wet to the touch, while others are brittle.
Sight, smell, touch, sound, taste—see if you can engage them all.
6. As always, keep the kids hydrated and well-fed so their imaginations are easy to ignite.
I can always tell when our kids are getting sluggish between water or snack breaks.
One of them, in particular, hits a wall whenever she’s hungry. It’s so obvious to my husband and me that it’s almost comical. She might not put a finger on what it is that’s affecting her, but I see her arms start to hang heavy, and if we’re hiking, she starts to lag behind. A simple snack later, and she’s back at the front of the line, ready and eager to explore whatever is around the next bend.
We like to keep a stash of kid-friendly snacks—especially CLIF Kid bars—in the car, so that we can fuel up on our way to a destination. I also always grab a handful and put them inside my backpack or camera bag, for easy access on the trail. I picked up the newest CLIF Kid bar, the Zbar Fruit & Veggie, at Target, and it was our kids’ top choice of snacks on our most recent trip to Waterton Lakes National Park.
These organic, soft and chewy bars are available in three flavors: Awesome Orange (carrot, mango and orange), Keen Green (apple, sweet potato and spinach) and Purple Power (sweet potato, beet and berry). The bars fit well with CLIF Kid’s larger mission to encourage kids to “come out to play.” Join me in tagging your Zbar adventures with hashtag #OutToPlay!
I’d love to hear—Do your kids tend to hike with a destination in mind, or are they wanderers like mine? And what are YOUR tips for getting them to ready explore?
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of CLIF Kid. The opinions and text are all mine.