I know one of the adjectives used to describe me is not usually outdoorsy. My idea of a great time outside is a beautiful patio, a poolside lounge chair, or a beach blanket, but believe it or not, I am an avid hiker. I have come to really love hiking, and lately, I have even been seen hiking on a rainy day. One of the reasons for my love of hiking is because of the benefits to my children and our family.
We are so fortunate to live in a place where the trails are endless, and our climate allows for us to get outside year-round. We have no excuse and now, more than ever, we have the time.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began we have all pulled back on what often filled our days. The weekend is not filled with swimming lessons, Girl Guides, playdates, and soccer practice. We have much more time on our hands and it has been challenging to keep my children from feeling upset and disappointed when they are unable to play with friends or when I won’t let them fill their time with screens.
So we have been hiking A LOT! Sometimes when I say let’s go for a hike, I get a few groans, but within five minutes of being outside the grumbling has passed and usually my kids are chatting away about anything and everything on their minds. It has been enlightening.
Clearly there are benefits to hiking, for both children and adults alike.
- A reduced risk for heart disease
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Improved control over healthy weight
- Lower body fat
- Improved bone density
- Improved osteoarthritis outcomes
- Increases in flexibility and coordination
- Lower stress levels, improved mood, and enhanced mental well-being
And as if that wasn’t enough, I believe it is a great opportunity to support your child’s academic growth and development. We can develop our childrens’ creative and critical thinking skills while taking a simple walk in the woods. As we walk, I point out interesting plants or rocks or my children stop to notice something that catches their eye. As we start to chat, I often ask them, “What makes you say that?” This week on a hike, we came across this incredible tree. First, we had to look closely to see if it was still alive (which it was) and then we developed numerous hypotheses about how the loop came to exist. Some of our ideas were totally silly and fun (a giant was angry and twisted the tree this way) while others were more scientific and plausible. We will never know how this tree came to be this way. We continued hiking and spent at least 30 minutes thinking and talking about this particular tree and the conversation came up again during dinner that same night.
Sometimes I have the answers to their questions, but most often I don’t and that’s ok. Once in a while we will come home and look something up; like the time we observed the rectangular notches in the tree trunks and we talked about how the tree was cut down by loggers and the notches were used to insert planks of wood to stand on. My children needed to see this for themselves, so we “Googled” this. They were amazed by the lack of safety equipment.
Over the years, the hikes have changed and evolved. When they were really little and still wearing muddy buddies, we practiced our counting and ABC’s as we walked, we played “I spy” and we didn’t get very far. Today we can hike for up to two hours, we estimate our kilometers and our elevation, we track our steps, and we have discussions about important things like why slugs come in different colours.
I hope that my children have developed their strength and stamina, that they have developed a sense of wonder and respect for our environment, that our discussions and observations have benefitted them academically, and that we have grown closer as a family. So no matter the age of your child, find a trail and go hiking!