There will come a time when your little one will be ready to start exploring more independently. It won’t happen all at once, but you can expect it sometime between when she becomes a steady walker and when she gets too heavy for you to carry the entire time. At this stage, children are also becoming better communicators and beginning to enjoy the new feeling of independence that comes with learning how to walk. When you see your child’s look of wonderment as she begins to explore her surroundings, a real sense of joy bubbles up within you. It is an amazing feeling.
This newfound independence marks a new phase for both you and your child’s time in nature. You can expect a lot of ups and downs-literally, as your child transitions from the carrier, to walking, to back to the carrier, and so on. For our family this change began a few months before my daughter turned two. Up until this point she had been happy exploring her world from the backpack, telling us what she saw and heard along the way. She was focusing on her communication skills, and now seemed to be ready for more. Coincidentally, I was finding that my body needed more frequent breaks from her weight. So the timing seemed appropriate-for me, physically, and for her, developmentally-for her to start hiking on her own. Like many children, her explorations started from the ground up. She loved picking up things like rocks, acorns, gravel and leaves, and collecting them in her pockets.
The Need for Independence
Even as this great need for independence begins to set in, your child still feels the need to be close to you. At this stage, our poor little ones are tormented with their internal emotions. And what this means for hiking with an independent toddler is that we can’t expect them to walk yet for the entire time. Even if they are physically capable of walking, they may still emotionally want to be carried. When my daughter was like this, I brought along a lightweight Ergobaby carrier to back carry her when she needed it. I also found ways to increase her engagement with her environment so that she would be more willing to walk for longer periods of time.
Let Them Lead the Way
As your little one grows, you will need to constantly be thinking of ways to engage your child while on the hike. Children are naturally curious and want to have fun, and they also like to feel a sense of control-so follow their lead! Your role here will take on a whole new dimension, as you become to be more of a facilitator whose job is to foster positive experiences while setting safe boundaries. This can be a time of uncertainty for parents who haven’t yet built up their “bag of tricks,” but I promise you will surprise yourself with what you can come up with on the spot. And the payoff is well worth this new challenge. Your children will feel a greater sense of control, develop confidence, and become empowered by their experiences in the outdoors. With your guidance and persistence, they will develop a deeper connection to and appreciation for natural spaces.
4 activities for your bag of tricks
- Smooth vs. bumpy bark
- Velvety leaves vs. papery leaves
- Moss (nature’s carpet)
- Look for an object (a letter Y stick on the ground).
- Find rock or root climbing challenges (scrambles).
- Water to cross
- Rocks to climb
- Logs to explore
- One that won’t be ruined when you wash it.