Tips for Getting Outside with Older Children
by Melinda Taylor Schoutens, Fresh Air Kids Switzerland
“For the healthy psychological development of a child, that child needs to have experience of the outdoor world.”
- Jane Goodall, Primatologist & Anthropologist
At some point in your parenting journey, you must have caught yourself looking at your children and wondering how they went from tiny babies, to big kids. As I write this, I am now the mother of a twelve and a ten - year - old. How that happened feels like a miracle and a dream. I fondly recall when my two children spent most of their days physically attached to me, with small, warm heads resting close to my chest. Their petite fingers wrapped around my pinky; their dependence on me was vital to their existence.
Today, my son is deep into the pre-teens and my daughter is demanding more and more autonomy. These years include the daily rise and fall of emotions. The need for friends and gaming (sigh) and independence. Raising pre-teens is like a delicate dance. A dance where you, as the parent, wish to remain in the lead, but must gauge when it is appropriate to step back and allow your child to take that role. It is the gentle balance of choosing your battles; of learning when to move in and when to back away. Of letting go over and over again. It’s stepping in for the hugs, staying up late to read bedtime stories, and learning to nurture their need for sovereignty.
As we learn to navigate the pre-teen years, it is essential we maintain a deep and open line of communication with our children. We must leave space for conversations and we need to be emotionally available whenever we are called on. Reflecting on the time spent with my own children, the best way we learned to covet that connection has been by using nature as a backdrop. Each week, as a family, we commit to retreating to the natural world. As a unit of four, we hike and explore areas both near and far. As our children grow older, especially now that they have their own social networks, getting outside has become more challenging. When we present the idea of hiking, we are often met with resistance, but we know that family outdoor time is necessary for all of us physically and mentally. Listed below are a few tips to help get your children out of the house, so that you can continue to create meaningful relationships with nature and each other.
We usually check the weather forecast about mid-week and announce by Wednesday or Thursday that we will be hiking over the weekend. This way, the children know what to expect and when the time comes there are no surprises. We busy ourselves early in the morning with packing the bags and getting ready, as the children dress and ease into the morning. We always leave right after breakfast before the children dive deep into an activity that may be difficult to pull them away from. We also remind our children that we are dedicated to each other on Saturday, but Sunday is their free day to do whatever they wish.
Our children are much happier to hike when they know a mountain inn, a playground, a rope park or an alpine lake is waiting for them. Now that our children are older, we hear a lot less trail complaining when that destination is a mountain inn that will welcome us for an overnight stay. Mountain inns are pretty magical places, with bunkbed rooms, new areas to explore, delicious food and spectacular views.
To make the most of your day out or overnight, select a route that is scenic, not too long in duration and has a playground or a place of interest for your children. Our recommendation for this would be an area such as Mürren with the “Flower Park” at Allmendhubel. There are plenty of inns and huts in that area as well.
If your children are aging out of playgrounds, consider a day trip to Sattel, Hochstuckli. The area offers lovely views, a skywalk bridge, a play area, theme trails and a toboggan run. This is the perfect choice for family adventures!
Assign Your Child a Task
When our children need to feel more engaged in their surroundings or are having a particularly hard time on the trail, we always assign them a task. By allowing our children the opportunity to read a map, keep the time, or participate in a scavenger hunt, they become distracted and feel happier. The distraction refocuses their attention to something other than every step they must take in order to reach the destination.
Give Them a Camera
Children adore cameras. Whether it be the sound of the button clicking or feeling like they are photo journalists, placing a camera in the hands of a child is a magical experience. In our second book, Fresh Air Kids - Hikes to Huts, we provide inspiration for three photo challenges that will keep children engaged and active on the trail.
Do not forget to download the photos your child has taken during your journey. This is a fascinating window into your child’s world and you will better understand what captures their attention.
Engage in Conversation
I’m not sure what it is about nature, but it has a way of creating deep, meaningful bonds. I truly believe that we become less guarded in the natural world and are more apt to participate in important discussions.
In our overly stimulated world, it can be hard to engage in quality conversations without distractions, especially with our children. However, I have noticed that when we are hiking, beautiful conversations arise. This is your opportunity to foster strong bonds with your children. Use this time wisely and don’t be surprised if your children reaches for your hand or wraps their arm around you. As conversations unfold, the need to be physically close is also important. The need for physical connection is an indication that despite their age, children still crave intimate moments with you.
If initiating conversation can be tricky, we include two pages of questions in each of our books. Some questions are fun, some require deep thought and other questions encourage creative responses, but all of the questions aim to bring about connection.
Install an App: Seek by iNaturalist
No doubt about it, we live in a high- tech world and our children are often drawn to those technologies (much to my dismay). I often find myself cringing as my children stare at screens, but we are learning to strike a balance. Mostly, I am learning to allow that balance, which as a parent is very, very difficult. Nonetheless, to make the most of your time outdoors, consider installing an app that encourages your children to identify flowers, trees and creatures native to your area. Whenever you come across a species of plant or insect that is new to you, simply snap a photo and within seconds, the app will identify it for you. Children will quickly become enthusiastic about exploring with this new tool.
Expand this activity by drawing and labeling the plant, flower or insect you have identified in a nature journal. Next time you are out, bring the journal with you and see if you can discover that same plant or insect. This is not only educational, but your children’s knowledge of the flora and fauna in your area will also expand.
Have you ever heard of geocaching? It is like a huge scavenger hunt where maps lead participants to hidden clues, or trinkets all over designated routes. All you have to do is create a free account and download it to your phone. The geocaches vary in level of difficulty and the hidden treasures are all unique. For an informational video, check out www.geocaching.com.
During the depths of winter last year, we were desperate to get the children out of the house because we all needed fresh air. Though they were not up for a routine hike, they loved the idea of geocaching. Despite the frigid temperatures, together as a family and with the help the app, we searched a local trail for hidden geocaches. It was the perfect incentive to get us all outside.
Morning and Evening
Getting into nature doesn’t always have to be about hiking. Nature can provide the opportunity to bond over the magnificence and wonder of the sun as it rises and falls each day. There is something absolutely incredible about standing on a mountain and witnessing the sun kiss the peaks and paint the sky hues of red, orange, pink and yellow. To take those moments in with a child at your side is a bonding experience that will cascade into the day.
Don’t forget to research the full moon schedule and if you happen to be in the Alps during that time, commit to retreating outside in the evening with your children. The stars are equally as captivating and children marvel at the opportunity to spot constellations and shooting stars, all the while realizing how expansive this universe truly is. As a family, I can think of nothing sweeter than being fascinated by natures beauty together.
Getting outside with older children can indeed be more challenging and will require more effort, but I assure you, the extra energy is worth it! Be creative with your attempts and remember, nature creates the space to deeply connect with those we love in some pretty magical places.
* All Photo credits belong to Fresh Air Kids.
About the Author
Melinda Taylor Schoutens is a mother, wife, educator and author. Born and raised in the United States, she moved with her husband to Switzerland in 2007. Their initial contract of two - years quickly morphed into 14. Learning to be flexible and open to new possibilities has taught her a great deal. Now, as the mother of two children, Basel feels very much like home.
Melinda has a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction and has taught adults and children on an array of topics. She has designed educational curriculum for years and has curated and delivered a lecture entitled, “The Education of Nature.” She sits on the Board of Directors for HSK English Basel and is the author of the Fresh Air Kids Switzerland book series, which you can oder here.
To contact or to work with Melinda, please send an email to: email@example.com
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