Why hiking with kids is good for the whole family

This month our family has gone on several day hikes. I’ve got to say it feels really good to get out and breathe fresh mountain air. The scent of fir needles baking on a sun drenched forest floor is invigorating. These little excursions have been therapeutic for my body and my mind. I am particularly fond of hiking at a higher elevation than where we live (it doesn’t take much since we live so close to the water). Some of the finest dining I have experienced has been while perched on a rock all hot and sweaty, with a smashed granola bar, and views that go on for miles.

Hiking is fantastic for kids, they love exploring new places. I never cease to be amazed by the things The Little Helping notices. At home it would not be unusual to hear a bang and discover he had walked straight into a wall that has been standing in the same place for far longer than he has been alive. But get him on a trail and he notices all kinds of nearly invisible details. Several times, in the midst of scurrying down the trail, talking a blue streak, he stopped short and bent low to the ground for no apparent reason. It would turn out that he was closely examining a beetle, interesting leaf, or other tiny object the rest of us would have stepped over, or on.

Not only is his attention to detail magnified, his stamina on these hikes is astounding! Keeping him engaged walking around in our neighborhood often takes enduring a steady stream of whining while coaxing, begging, prodding, and promising exciting post walk activities. Not so on a hike. Once he set foot on those trails, he was a happy little mountain goat. I was bracing myself to pull out all the tricks to keep him moving, instead we had to remind him not to pull to far ahead. Even at the end of our 6 mile day he popped out of the woods with energy to spare. Aren’t kids hilarious?

Nature is a classroom like no other and getting out into the woods is a much needed break from our daily distractions. Rather than plugging in and tuning out we get to spend time talking to each other. When his mind is allowed to wander The Little Helping asks us some incredible questions. We have touched on subjects that I never would have expected things — like death and the afterlife, ecology, creature mythology, and some of the silliest of silly things. Along the trails we have seen some interesting animal behavior. Have you ever seen a snake eating a slug? We have! The trails also gave us some tasty treats in the form of native berries and the opportunity to talk about when it is and isn’t okay to eat wild berries (or other things).

I find these family hikes stir up a bit of emotion on my part. Every summer during my childhood my parents packed us up and took us hiking. I hated it. I hated it and I made sure everyone else knew how much I hated it. I was an overweight and obese child and I began huffing and puffing before we finished unloading the car. The additional weight on my body hurt my feet, knees, back, and restricted my circulation. Even my arms felt uncomfortable. I hated the way I felt, therefore, I hated hiking.

We were fortunate to be able to hike with my parents early this month. More than once I marveled aloud at how well The Little Helping was doing and how much I would have complained. I guess it was my lame attempt at apologizing for my bad attitude as a kid. I am so grateful for our healthy family but I continue to feel the shadow of my life before weight loss. Living at an unhealthy weight meant I missed out on a lot of adventure and did not get to fully engage when I did participate. For me these hikes are healing as much as they are fun.

Thank goodness for second chances and thank goodness we live close to so many great trails!

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