The perfect classroom for a child is a hiking trail

Guest post by Amber Linthakhan
Photos by Amber.

Hiking is so much more than just walking around in nature with a hiking stick, a back pack, and some provisions. It can be a way of escape, it can be a time of meditation, it can be challenging, it can be educating, it can be down right frustrating. For us… it’s all of the above.

We usually set off on hikes in search of the beauty they have to offer. And we always walk away with so much more.

It should be no surprise that we don’t always stay on the trail set a head of us. On longer hikes we do, but on little short hikes we always ditch the trail in search of something more. This can be exhilarating, fun, and dangerous at the same time. Fortunately, or unfortunately (I haven’t quite decided), I live with three wild boys who seem to live for danger most days.

What would seem as a nice leisurely two-mile hike to a hidden lake turns into scaling slippery rocks, on a very vertical hill, crossing over a stream by way of fallen timber on your hands and knees, bushwhacking through Devils Club (it is as horrific as it sounds), and of course being eaten alive by swarms of mosquitos. I can still hear those buggers buzzing in my ears!

We always leave the trail with some bumps and scrapes, tired muscles, and happy boys.

Through these impromptu adventures we are teaching our children every step of the way. They are learning teamwork. We never leave anyone behind and we always help the person next to us. They are learning problem solving skills. Like finding the easiest route when there doesn’t seem to be a way through the brush, or over the stream. They are learning their own limits of what their little bodies are capable of doing and what they aren’t quite ready for. Although they seem to test these the most thinking they might be able to fly ‘this time’ if they jump off the next rock. They are learning that it’s ok to take the path never traveled because most times it leads us to hidden gems.

They learn to count on others. They learn that nature is delicate and beautiful and unforgiving.

So hiking isn’t just hiking. The lessons learned and the conversations we have during our trails go much deeper then just walking through the woods.

Comments on The perfect classroom for a child is a hiking trail

  1. I cannot read this article without shuddering. Bushwacking? Crossing a wet log on your hands and knees? Sunlight? It’s the kind of thing my nightmares are made of! Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad these kids love it. It sounds like they’re learning awesome things (like how to find paths. I can’t even find a highway without help.) Even better, they’re getting quality time with their parents. I love all of that. I just can’t help going, “Oh I was so glad when my parents stopped forcing ‘outside’ time on me.”

  2. Love this post! I wish I had someone to take me on a nature trail. I was a girl scout when I was little and loved all of it, being outdoors, camping, wilderness lore.. but I didn’t retain a lot of the practical how-to stuff and now that I’m old I have no idea how to “jump in” to this kind of thing. Let alone with kids! I’d want to know what the hell I’m doing before I bring them with me, but I don’t know where to start.

  3. I love this post and the idea of teachable moments that come from exploring nature. Especially in a time when fewer and fewer children are connected to the natural world. As a Ph.D. student in natural resources studying recreation, however, part of the post made me shudder. Bushwhacking and off-trail hiking can cause serious environmental damage in our parks and protected areas. You can kill certain plant species by trampling them only one or two times and off-trail hiking leads to the spread of “social trails”. I would encourage parents who use nature as an outdoor classroom to incorporate the principles of Leave No Trace into their experiences with their children. Off-trail travel can be done properly (such as hiking on rocks or durable plants such as grasses). We want to make sure that we are stewards of the natural areas where we take are children. We want these areas to be around so their children can experience the wonders of nature as well.

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