Notes From the Naturalist: October 9, 2017

To hike is to explore. To hike is to discover. To hike is to connect. Just being in the natural world is a place of infinite exploration, a higher level of being and a greater place to enjoy the friends you are with. We ended the week with a hike. It was a hike with no expectation. We had a place in mind, but we knew that it would be up to the ability of the group to reach that place. And we not only reached that one special place but we also made it to the top. It was glorious!

The children in our group all vary in their abilities in terms of cognitive, social and physical capabilities. Some in our group are strong hikers while some still struggle with foot placement on inclined surfaces. So you can imagine that a “big” hike this early on was a bit of a stretch for our Nature Preschoolers. We decided to give it a try and we had no regrets.

“Struggling along a trail for hours at a time can be exhausting and frustrating, but many hikers get a rush of adrenaline from reaching their destination. Yes, legs might be sore or tired and sweat might be dripping off your face, but completing a goal is a great thing to accomplish. By hiking and reaching ever-expanding goals, your kid will develop a better understanding of what hard work really is and how to push through barriers when times get hard.”

As we reached the first “special” place on our hike, one child exclaimed, “This is the most beautiful place!” And, yeah, I couldn’t agree more! If you take the Worthern Trail near the lodge, blazed in red, you will reach a small clearing that has two good lookouts just below the summit of Little Round Top. We stopped and enjoyed our morning greeting, circle time and the weather. From there we pushed on to the top for snack and a final resting break. For some children, this was their first time at the top, while others are regulars. The wind was quite loud and blustery, but not one child was upset over it or wanted to leave. Typically, wind is the one factor that can really change children’s comfort level outside. We snacked away in the wind, and occasionally each of the teachers ran after a rogue snack baggie making sure not to litter!

“[Being] uncomfortable isn’t always a bad thing. By pushing your body a little harder to reach a new lake or peak, you are developing healthy, strong muscles. By developing these muscles at a young age, you are more likely to be able to hike later in life without as much difficulty as someone who didn’t hike as a child. My muscle memory for hiking is better than most hikers my age, thanks to my upbringing on the trails.”

We grow through the challenges we face, may they be big or small. Every time we hike with our Nature Preschoolers, we challenge them, we make them stronger and we engage them in the natural world. Keep hiking with your children. Talk about what you see. Ask “wonder” statements, such as I wonder why the leaves are changing color….. Make observations, take notes or pictures. The one thing that you can do besides spending time with your child, is to get them involved with the physical aspects of being outside. Practice hiking, have them carry a small backpack, encourage them to lead and to find the blazes in the woods marking the trail. Because in the end, to hike is to explore!

Jennifer MacDonaldComment