Walking into nature

Put the screens away and enjoy the great outdoors with the family.

For Kearney mom Haley Kelley, a walk outside with her kids isn’t just a walk. It’s a time to get into nature, examine animal tracks, use the senses to take in what they see and learn basic navigation skills.

“They have learned a lot of survival techniques,” Kelley says. “It gives them something other than technology to rely on.”

Lee’s Summit mom Tarah Brown and her family climb downed trees and big rocks, watch for birds, look for frogs, talk about photosynthesis and count acorns on their walks.

“When you are hiking, you don’t have your phone out,” Brown says. “You are there to learn and spend time together.”

In a time when many families are in front of screens instead of connecting with each other, getting the kids to appreciate the outdoors can be difficult. Yet with some effort, the whole family can enjoy the benefits of a good walk.

Walks are excellent exercise that also can help reduce stress and generally put everyone in a better mood. Additionally, walking and hiking provide an excellent opportunity for kids to use their imagination while exploring their surroundings.

Dani Johnston, a mom of three from Greenwood, says her family began hiking together when they were going through a difficult period of loss. It helped them bond as a family and cope with the situation.

After several years of making hiking a regular habit, Johnston says it helps put her children in a calm mood and become more observant of the world. Additionally, she says her oldest child is learning the limits of what she is safely able to do.

For Johnston, hiking is a time when she is simply with her family and not worried about hair, makeup, social media or the other distractions of life.

How can you turn your child into a walker or hiker and enjoy the outdoors together?

  1. Start small and build up.
  2. Don’t start out planning a big hiking vacation in the mountains. A simple walk around the block might be all the kids are up to at first. Set small, attainable goals that build on each other.
  3. Set realistic expectations.

“There is going to be at least one meltdown,” Johnston says. “It’s just like getting through anything with kids.”

She recommends going with the flow, laughing off the less-than-stellar moments and knowing the limits of your children. Also, having plenty of snacks always helps. Just let the kids be kids and do their own thing—and it’s okay if they come back a bit dirty.

Make the walk an adventure.

Have your children use their imaginations. Are they marching through the neighborhood to find a hidden treasure? Or are your kids moving with ninja-like stealth through the forest to keep an eye out for potential foes? Possibilities are endless for entertainment on a walk.

For a child who is especially difficult to get away from the screen, consider taking a video game walk and have him imagine he is in the middle of a game trying to make it to the next level.

Mix it up.

Change the scenery often and have a variety of places you can go. Include neighborhood walks, strolls at city parks and hikes on trails in nature.

Bring friends.

Everything is better with friends. Johnston says she has found many people are just waiting for someone to set up a time and place to go hiking together.


Make the outdoors a classroom.

Brown says she uses hikes to teach her children about conservation and being good stewards of the environment. Additionally, she says she teaches her kids about the role plants and animals play in our lives.

Getting outside

Looking for some creative activities to keep kids engaged during your walks and hikes? Here are a few ideas.

  • Practice photography skills. Taking pictures of nature can help give kids an appreciation and understanding of what they see.
  • Go geocaching. It’ll teach the kids some navigation skills, and they will be excited to find each cache.
  • Take a color walk. For younger kids, a simple way to get started could be to have them identify everything around them of a specific color.
  • Engage in a scavenger hunt. Develop a list of all sorts of things the kids can find in nature and watch them have fun trying to track down everything as you go along.

Allison Gibeson is a freelance writer from Lee’s Summit who is teaching her son to enjoy walking and hiking as much as she does.

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