What parent doesn’t want their little one to turn into an amazing trail steward who protects all of the beautiful parks and trails around us? It all starts with teaching them from an early age. Here are ten tips provided by Hike it Baby families to help little ones learn about their role in land protection.
- Take them hiking as early as you can! (if they grow up loving nature they will be adults that protect it).
- Model the behavior yourself and keep it simple for their new little learning minds.
- Introduce them to “Trail Heros” such as park rangers, trail association volunteers, people practicing leave no trace and their work on the trail.
- Read books that feature positive examples of respectful trail behavior, our National Parks, and historic “trail heros”. S is for S’mores or Curious George Goes Camping. Look for familiar kids characters interacting with nature positively.
- Encourage them to be mindful on the trail (encourage them to stop and use their senses like listening for birds and frogs and footsteps on rocky paths, so that they are aware of how other people and animals are using the trail).
- Give them age appropriate “jobs” and encourage “teamwork” while preparing for adventures and while on the trail. They can clear paths of branches that have fallen, take a picture of a damaged bridge to alert the park and pick up a can someone carelessly left on trail.
- Help children identify nature around them at home, on the street, and on trails. You don’t have to be deep in a forest to offer reminders that nature is all around. Windy day and leaves and branches hitting the house, talk about wind and then show your child a fallen branch from the storm the next day to remind them of how nature is always present.
- Take indoor activities outdoors as often as possible. If your child likes to read, have them find a spot outside to read! If they like to sing, have them sing to your garden. It will help the plants grow. Even trucks and teddy bears can play in the forest. Maybe have a bin of “forest toys” your kiddo can pick from so you don’t have to worry about a toy taking a mud bath.
- Include your children in your outdoor activity planning. Kids love maps. Show them maps early on. Draw maps of your local parks and trails and have your children help talk about stumps they stop at and creeks they cross. Draw a spider you once saw on that trail or a slug that crossed your path.
- When your child does the wrong thing (like littering or stomping on bugs) calmly and gently discuss it with them. Let them know that Mommy or Daddy gets sad when the flowers get smashed because that means they will stop growing and not be there for the next friend to enjoy. The goal is to educate, not punish as your child gets more in touch with nature.
Photo Creds: Ashley D Scheider Photography