Guest author – Jason Camp – Wild About Outdoor Learning Society – Steering Committee
A parent perspective on generating hiking excitement for his two young daughters.
Having my own children created the space for me to see the outdoor world through a brand-new set of eyes. Eyes that are only about a metre off the ground. Eyes that dart around looking under logs, leaves, and rocks for things that I would easily walk by on my way to my “destination”. Eyes that constantly look up at me to see if I am interested in what they are interested in.
In my adult mind, I had an expectation that we would go for a lovely hike to go see a small set of small caves a couple of kilometers away. We would be about 30 minutes walking there, stay for about 10 minutes, and then walk back. However, that is the way an adult mind thinks. Walking is a way of getting to a destination whereas for children, walking and exploring is the destination.
When my daughters encountered a fallen log across the deer trail, they immediately turned the log into something to both climb over and then back under. This log was something to explore! It didn’t matter that we came across it within 100 metres of the cabin, it was something they hadn’t encountered before and in their minds, it was worth taking time to thoroughly explore. My initial thought was to hurry them along so we could get to the “real” destination, but I became quietly aware that it ultimately was not about me and my ideas of a destination. I knew that they would find the caves very interesting (if not a little magical), but if I hurried them, I ran the risk of making the experience miserable in the way a forced march is no fun. If I wanted them to love nature, then surely I had to let them explore nature on their terms (as per the advice of Emma Marris in her Ted Talk – LINK).
So, we slowed down and tried to, as a family, open ourselves to what was around us with each step as we made our way towards the caves. We heard the throaty dripping water sounds of ravens flying overhead. I asked my daughters what they thought the birds were up to and my eldest decided that they must be playing tag. We spoke about imaginary creatures and wondered aloud if they would be friends. We took water and snack breaks.
Eventually, after a good long while, we reached our destination where my daughters could offer up their drawings to the “holey monster” who would, if she decided that the drawings were suitable, magically transform them into chocolate so long as the girls remained hidden for 10 seconds (holey monsters are, after all, a shy lot).
Having received the well-deserved chocolate, we began our journey back to the cabin, at the exact same “kid” pace that allowed for lots of exploring and questions on the way home.
I think my best advice for parents when taking their child into the woods is to put down your adult glasses and instead, see the world as your child sees it. Get right down to their level. Don’t rush. Ask questions to get your child thinking about how things connect in nature and don’t correct them when you think they have it “wrong”. Make space for children to explore and question and you will make lovers of nature for life!
LINK to the Holey Monster walk
Reminder: The Wild About Outdoor Learning Society Vancouver Outdoor Festival – Tidal WAV’23 (Wild About Vancouver) is on Saturday, May 27th in Stanley Park.
Hikes with the Lead Park Ranger, Chris Penton, and Indigenous host, Lori Snyder, will leave from the Park Ranger Station in Ceperley Park, right beside the Second Beach Concession Stand. starting at 10 am.
Hope to see you there!