Taking Children Outdoors
Taking children outdoors... What a wondrous time to use all your senses -- especially your sense of humor! Be generous with your time and attention. Be flexible with your schedule. You are making memories that will last a lifetime - Leave your worries at home (they'll wait for you...) relax, and have fun!
Let's take a quick look at tips for success, including setting appropriate expectations, preparing for safety and some tips for keeping children happy, moving and learning such as: drinks and snacks, activities for discovering and other resources.
Expectations will make or break your trip outdoors with children.
Expect to stop and smell the roses, or more likely, look at the bug or skip stones. The more flexible and easy going you are, the better time you'll all have. Keep trips shorter for best results, and remember that their stamina may not be a good as yours when it comes to hiking. Try not to go too far or too long the first times you go out. Carrying children back long distances gets old really fast!! Sing, tell stories, and by all means, bribe children with the snacks you've brought. And, as mothers know, be prepared that there's always one kid who's going to be unhappy about something. Don't worry, however. It won't last. It'll just switch to another kid. It's really no different than being indoors in that respect!
Let them know what to expect. A long car ride to get there? Something new to do or a favorite activity? Will there be playgrounds? Swimming? Pit toilets?? The more they know and are prepared, the less hassle you'll have later. Just be calm and matter of fact (especially important the first time little ones meet a pit toilet) and keep smiling!
If there's a long car ride involved, let them bring toys to keep entertained on the trip. Consider making the trip overnight so everyone is rested and in a good mood.
We all know safety is important. Here are a few tips, but feel free to go through the online Outdoor Skills chapter of Hunter Education. You'll learn lots of great trips on being outdoors.
Know where you're going and let others know your plan. If you are hiking with young children, your best bet is to stay on well-established trails. Be sure to look behind you often so the trail looks familiar on the return trip!
Keep young children in sight at all times. Have all the children wear bright colors and have everyone, including you, wear a whistle.
Have a plan getting help in an emergency. Can you use a cell phone where you are going or would you lose cell service out on the trail? Is someone expecting you at a certain time? Could you signal for help if you needed to?
Bring a good first aid kit.
Check out more safety tips and ways to explain them to children in the Kids' Page Safe, Smart, Survival! page.
Always have a canteen or source of clean drinking water. It's easy to get dehydrated in Texas. You can bring other drinks, but water is still the best thirst-quencher, and nobody's got sticky faces after drinking it. Let each child carry a small, LIGHT WEIGHT pack with a canteen. There are some ideas for items to pack on the kids page, Outdoor Kids Survival Kit.
Someone can carry snacks. Stop often and use the snacks to help them rest and to mark the time of the outing or distance on the trail. (When on the trail, "bribing" with snacks is okay!) Everyone is using plenty of calories and actually needs to eat. Trail mix is popular: a mixture of dried fruit, raisins, peanuts, M&Ms, etc. Fruit is good, but keep in mind you'll need to pack out peels, cores, etc. (Tossing the fruit into the weeds isn't a good idea. Animals begin to rely on people food instead of natural food sources more suitable for their digestive systems. Also, animals can easily become pests in a highly-visited area. Better to see an animal in its native habitat than a garbage dump we've created!)
Remember that you don't need to be a scientist, naturalist or expert in outdoor skills to take children on a nature hike or enjoy nature while fishing, hunting, boating, or picnicking. Just take a look around.
- If you see an animal, let your children try and figure out how the animal's size or shape or color helps it. How does a rabbit use its big ears and big back legs? Why does the rabbit need them to survive? Basic knowledge that, for example, rabbits are tasty food to most animals, is all the knowledge you really need behind you. Let the children think up all kinds of things. Some ideas will be correct, some funny, and some out-of-this world. It's a great excuse to follow up with a trip to the library afterwards. Remember that discovery is the key, not that you have all the answers. Show them how to observe and how to find answers, and you will have given them a skill for lifelong learning!
- Challenge the children to use their senses. Look for colors, textures and smells. Count the colors in a rock.Take a piece of paper and a crayon and do rubbings on different tree bark. There are some fun and easy exploring activities in the Outdoor Kids section called "Explore!" If you have permission from the landowner, you can take along a little collection bag and your children can collect small objects such as rocks and sort them in an egg carton at home. Remember that you cannot remove objects from state or national parks.
- What season is it and what do you see? Come back during another season and compare what you saw then and now.
- Observe how things outdoors such as plants, animals, rocks are either same or different. You don't need to be a scientist and know fancy names for things. Just let your children discover how things can be the same or different. The first scientists got started this way, trying to organize the natural world into something they could understand. Let the children discover this for themselves.
- Look for signs of wildlife. Is there a path in the weeds beaten down by deer? Is there a hidden animal home at the base of a tree or in a bank of dirt? Can you find ants carrying food to their home?
- Try to discover how plants, animals, people and natural resources are all part of one system. What happens to one part of the system can affect the other. Was there a big rain recently or a drought? How were things outdoors affected? What do you see around a tree that has fallen? Can you find animal tracks around a puddle or stream?
- For grade-school children, think about how our folklore, music, arts and crafts, our history and even many of our jobs are based on what's found in nature. What is in your part of Texas that attracted people to live there? See the About Texas kids' pages and the teacher and parent page for each region. The children's pages include art projects for each region.
- Have the chilren draw or write about their discoveries in their own Outdoor Kid Journal, free for download from our web site.
- Check out State Parks, Wildlife Management Areas and Visitor Centers
- Visit local community parks or ask permission to visit private lands.
- Create your own backyard habitat with a Texas Wildscape.
- Learn important Outdoor Skills by reading this chapter in the Hunter Education online course (you can take this without signing up for hunter education)
- Look for activity ideas under:
Enjoy and thank you for introducing the next generation to the wonders of the great Texas outdoors!