Thursday, September 12, 2019

Educating children about hiking in real time

Hiking is the perfect family activity because it provides the opportunity to reconnect as a family and to spend quality time without the distractions of everyday life. Hiking always provides the opportunity for parents to teach children in real time about the wonders of the trail, including plant life, animals, weather, navigation, and so much more!! On the trail, curious children look to their parents for answers rather than their friends, Alexa and Google. Hiking provides important interactions of teaching and learning, which helps to solidify positive parent-child relationships.

It is important for parents to be educators while on the trail and to allow children the opportunity to stop and explore their surroundings. Don't get too caught up on the time it should take to complete a hike, but instead plan for additional time to explore and to help children be engaged with the many wonderful sights and sounds while on the trails. 

Flash taking the time to check out the pond

Did you hear that?

How many times when you are hiking do you hear a rustle in the bush but just keep walking? Especially when hiking with children, it is important to take the extra time to explore the noise. Maybe the sound coming from the bush is a bird, snake, frog or squirrel or maybe even a deer or a moose? It is amazing what you can find when you take the time to look. 

Each season provides different opportunities to investigate sounds. In the spring, for example, it is an exciting time to explore new animal life hatching or coming out of their holes or dens. There is an abundance of new life along the trails, including wildlife and plants. In the summer, you can often spot animals making the most of the warm sun. In the fall, it is fun to watch squirrels collect their food supplies for the winter. In the winter, you can connect the noises you hear with the small footprints in the snow. 

Baby Ruffed Grouse (Partridge)

What was here?

Discovering a track along the hike is always fun. We usually bring our book of animal tracks so we can compare and contrast the tracks on the trail with the various tracks in our resource guide so we can figure out the animal that left the track. You can also discover the direction the animal is heading based on the positioning of the track. Have children guess how long ago the track was made (e.g. Is the track fresh? Are there any other signs of the animal? In what direction do you think the animal went next?) 

Without taking the time to soak in the setting, hiking for children is just walking! Teach children about the animals that live in the forest and they will be intrigued by their presence and will gain a better appreciation for them. The more children learn about the signs of animal presence, the more they will be curious about the trail we share and the more they will be excited about walking in the woods.

Spicy and Carebear checking out a track 

What type of frog is that?

Bodies of water are an excellent place for children to explore. By walking around the shoreline, walking on logs or hoping on rocks, children can follow the sounds of animals splashing in the water. Finding a beaver in action, hard at work to build a home, will be an instant memory for children (and they also learn about animal life, far better than any textbook or app). 

With so much animal life living within or surrounding waterways, there are countless opportunities for children to discover the vast array of animal life. You don't even need to be an expert in the area. There are laminated cards you can purchase or you make your own to bring out on the trail with a little bit of searching of the most common types of specifies in the area that you are about to hike. 

Bull frog identified by the brown round circle behind its eye 

While on the trail, children can takes notes in their log book of the various frogs, toads, turtles, fish and other animals they discover along the trail. Logging animal life provides children with the opportunity to learn about the distinguishing features of some the common amphibians and fowl. 

Painted turtle extending its limbs to catch every bit of sun

Why is it doing that?

Exploring animal behaviour in the wilderness is a truly amazing experience for children, as it teaches them about the (sometimes odd) ways animals behave in their natural environment to attract a mate, search for food or build their homes. It is fun to watch a turtle sticking out its limbs to absorb the sun and a herring standing so still to catch a fish. But understanding animal behaviour takes time to observe while being silent spectators from a distance. 

Grey herring standing as still as possible for its next meal 

Watching animal behaviour requires you to take breaks, slow down and appreciate the amazing opportunities to watch and learn. 


They say that you can't see the forest for the trees, which is a great reminder when hiking with children. If you only focus on reaching the peak or completing the hike in a certain amount of time, you will miss all of the teachable moments while on the trail. 

With modern technologies, there is an abundant of information accessible at children's finger tips. They can search online, read books, or watch videos. But there is no better way to learn about the outdoors than being outdoors. 

Hiking provides children the opportunity to unplug from their devices and to learn about the environment, the ecosystem and all of its wonders in real time. Parents become the teachers to build curiosity, respect and appreciation of the wonders in nature. Parents also become critical ambassadors for protecting the wildlife, the natural habitats and the amazing ecosystems of the forest. You just can't get these lessons from books...or from the Internet! 

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