After spending as much time as I have in the woods with my children, and so many others, I’m always surprised at my inability to predict how our adventure will unfold. And then I find myself being surprised that I was, in fact, surprised to begin with! From the moment we step into parenthood I feel that the one constant, is to expect the unexpected. So what does this mean for being in the woods with our children? Some ancient old wisdom: be prepared.
With our walking sticks in hand, my nearly 5 year old (heaven forbid I call her 4!), 17 month old, and I headed into the woods this morning. Unlike my first, my son was eager to get out of the carrier and walk on his own. From the start, I wasn’t able to backcarry him-for literal fear he would pick out the hair on the back of my head, one by one. It only has to happen a few times to know that the backcarry game is over! All this to say, I didn’t bring a carrier. And so it was this day, he decided he only wanted to be held. So when my (nearly) 5 yr old decided she was cold and wanted to end the hike, my burning arms enthusiastically agreed.
Lesson reminded, just be prepared. Next time I’ll throw the carrier in the car. Why not.
Craft Idea #1: Glittery Bird Nest
What you will need:
Use only natural materials. Paint eggs blue for American robin eggs. Put your nest in a tree. Share your #GlitteryBirdNest #NatureCrafts with @nycadventuremom or on Facebook!
Hiking with the independent toddler (plus 4 activities to increase your child's engagement in nature)
The Steady Walker
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
1 Touch different textures.
Note: This article is written by guest blogger, Susan Quinn. Susan is a true explorer and one of my favorite Adventure Moms. She is mother to three and has been creating rich outdoor experiences for her family for years. This is her voice. Enjoy!
It's a rare day in October that you can spend time outdoors in a tank top and shorts. As a stay at home mom to three kids who are all in school full time for the first time, I knew I had to take advantage of it! So I packed my lunch, my copy of The Fellowship Of the Ring and my dog and headed into the woods.
While there are numerous trails at Schooleys Mountain Park, for my destination today, I chose to take a longer roundabout way then I normally do. I parked at the very back and left of the parking lot and walked into the meadow. This meadow leads to the yellow trail, also know as the Grand Loop Trail. The plan was to combine this trail with a couple others to reach my favorite parts of the park.
I entered the meadow and almost immediately the yellow trail began on my right. I was greeted by the sight of squirrels collecting nuts for the winter and birds fluttering through the trees. My dog, Donovan, and I followed this well marked trail for approx 3/4 of a mile until we reached the junction for the Highlands Cut trail, marked with red paint. You can always tell the beginning of a trail as the square markers will be in the shape of a triangle.
We took the red trail to the right. Making sure to keep a keen eye, as the trail is very wide and rocky here and easily lost. Luckily there are plenty of red blazes to keep you on track! We continued on this red trail surrounded by trees of a stunning yellow until we came upon a small cliff, really just a rock ledge, that I couldn't help but think how much fun my kids would have exploring!
The trail then narrows making it much easier to navigate. It continues this way for about 1/4 of a mile until you reach what I call the 'main trail'. It's a very wide and well-worn path that if you were to go right, would take you back to the parking lot. But we are not doing that today! So we made a left onto the path, which also happen to be part of the Grand Loop Trail so you will be back to following yellow markers.
Soon we reached an intersection and were met by two bus loads of school children! It was amazing to see the school getting them out for the afternoon. I wish there could be more days like that for kids at school, but I guess that's a topic for another day!
This intersection brings you to the pink trail, which you will make a right onto and follow to the end. (Please note, the map seems to show this trail as orange, so they must have recently changed blaze color. ) At the end you are greeted by a rocky outcropping offering stunning views on the valley and town below. Aptly named, Long Valley. This is a beautiful place to sit for a while and that is exactly what we did. I enjoyed my book and lunch, and Donovan enjoyed sitting in the shade. Take the time here to sit and listen and you may get to see and hear the screeching of Hawks soaring above. If you have a pair of binoculars I would suggest you bring them!
When your rest is done, back track just a few yards and take the blue trail on the left. This will lead you down to the creek bed, which my dog thoroughly enjoyed! Continue on this blue trail back up. It parallels the creek, which has numerous waterfalls and pools to enjoy. The trail ends at the top where the lake is. You have options here to take the path to the left around the lake, but be warned there is a park on the other side and if your kids are like mine, they are sure to want to stop! The other option is to stay to the right on the gravel path and it will lead you right back up to the parking lot where there is a pavilion and restroom facilities. Whatever path you chose, you are sure to find some peace and beautiful scenery here. Don't forget to grab a map so you can check out all your amazing options!
I accessed Schooleys Mountain Park from the entrance on East Springtown Road Washington Township NJ 07853. I would rate this hike as easy to moderate. Most of the terrain is flat with small rocks in the path and the only up or down being when you reach the creek on the blue trail. In my opinion, if you are four and up you can do this whole loop on your own. Moms and dads may need to help out here and there, but overall a very family-friendly hike totaling approximately two miles.
Hike #1: Hook Mountain Nyack, NY
Hiking with my daughter has become one of my most prized ways to spend time together. My hiking toddler is now 2 1/2 yrs old. Although she has been hiking and exploring the forest all of her life, toddlers need incentives to "hike". For us, a nice incentive of chocolate milk gets her hike on! For our first #ReachYourPeak Fall Challenge Hike we headed about an hour north of NYC to Hook Mountain. We have hiked this trail before but at a time when I was predominantly babywearing. I used to carry her in a Kelty Backpack which wasn't terrible to take up and down once you got the hang of it. It was convenient enough to store necessary items such as first aid, water, snacks, and extra clothes, but as my tot's weight has increased I have returned to my beloved Ergo.
The hike begins with a steep ascent. Perfect for grabbing roots, climbing rocks, and spotting the next blaze...perfect for engaging my 2 1/2 year old! She led the way (with me closely behind!) cheering herself on at the tough times "I can do it!"
With plenty of songs, including "Let It Go", and a few stops to look at leaves, fungus, and deer, she lasted nearly 2 miles! After that she was out. She slept all through lunch at the peak of Hook Mountain and woke up just as we were leaving the trail.
We covered nearly 5 miles in just under 3.5 hours including lunch.
In no particular order of importance the singing insects are made up of many different species of katydid, cricket, and cicada; and late summer is their mating season. The songs are used to attract mates and establish territories. If you listen carefully you can actually separate and distinguish between their songs. The Common True Katydid is heard at night singing from high in the trees. Their sound is a quick burst of 3 “ch, ch, ch”-say it aloud, do you recognize it? In general, crickets will sound a continuous trill or pulse of pure tone (meaning less rasp)-try trilling your tongue in a high-pitched voice. Your kids will appreciate you for this… Listen for cicadas during the day. Just the sound of them seems to raise the temperature! Cicadas are the loudest of the singing insects and sound very raspy. Their pattern starts quiet, quickly intensifies, and slowly fades, and it can sound almost like a rattle or pulse.
This is a fun exercise to do with your little ones and strengthens listening and observational skills. Happy listening!
Disclaimer: The following article and experience completely disregards what anyone experiences if they are allergic or severely allergic to insect stings or bites. I am not allergic and therefore cannot account for those experiences. They should not in any way be taken lightly and if you or your child is allergic I recommended seeing or calling a professional immediately.
I’m a nature kid. I spent most of my childhood and adolescence in the woods. And in all my time outside, I’ve been stung by a bee one time until now. First time I was sitting in the grass. It was my fault-I could accept that. I sat down and squished the poor thing with my legs. So if I were a bee, I would have stung me too. I remember that at first it hurt and the pain was a little shocking. But it hurt a LOT more once I saw that I had a bee hanging from my leg, and the realization that I had been stung. I did the usual thing an 8 year old would do. I ran around screaming until my mom helped settle me down.
In my memory, I was overreacting. Sure it hurt, but it wasn’t really that bad. That’s hindsight, and as humans we have a habit of amnesia when it comes to pain. Childbirth, think about it…. This is the purpose of this article. To put us in touch with what our children are experiencing when a bee stings them, because in our minds, yes it’s sad to see them hurting, but they must be overreacting.
The second time I was stung by a bee had nothing to do with being an outdoorsy person, and it is from this account that I documented the real deal in real time. So if one day a bee should sting my daughter, I would have a real and unbiased record of how she might be feeling. You know, empathy. I was taking my car for a routine oil change when I felt something in my hair. I reached to brush it away, and cue needle. Initially it was sharp and burning. Shocking but no doubt I had been stung. I felt an adrenaline rush feeling in my finger where I was stung and the surrounding areas. Up to 30 minutes later it was still painful to the touch at the site of the sting and surrounding area and that burning sensation remained. It was slightly swollen and tight feeling as the skin stiffened. By this time I was home, and remembered a natural remedy I had heard about. A forager once showed me a weed called the Common Plantain, that if chewed would take away pain from a bee sting. I was actually psyched to try it.
I quickly found the plantain weed (Plantago major) in my yard, because it is super easy to find and grows almost anywhere. I grabbed a couple leaves, chewed on them, and put it directly on the sting. The pain relief was immediate and I was able to touch the sensitive area. What?? It was awesome and made my sting experience complete. Note: Though I did not use ice, I think it would have felt good and brought the swelling down as well.
Lessons of the day:
1. Don’t assume your child is overreacting, it does actually really hurt and the pain is long lasting.
2. Be sure the stinger isn’t still in your skin. If it is, you need to remove it. Scraping a credit card against the skin works really well and painlessly. If you use tweezers be aware that if you squeeze the venom sac causing more venom to release into your skin which would cause more pain. It is possible to grab it out just below the venom sac to avoid this.
3. If you are using the plantain method remedy be sure no fertilizers have been used before you willingly put it into your mouth and chew it to a pulp.
4. Do not be afraid to spend time outdoors. Leave bees and wasps alone. Fight the urge and do not swat at them when they are near you. I have only been stung twice in my life and I spend a LOT of time outdoors. Both times I was stung, were times when I made an aggressive move against the bee.
Now that the temptation of summer is upon us, the urge for breath-taking views and water filled hikes begins. If you are on the hunt for a good waterfall hike to do with your little one(s) check out Hemlock Falls in South Mountain Reservation, NJ. This hike and waterfall area will not disappoint. It’s great fun for kids and dogs alike who like to splash in the pools beneath. If you are Babywearing, be aware of loose rocks and tricky footing in some areas. Overall the hikes are easy to moderate and should take no more than a couple of hours with hang time included. While there are many ways to access Hemlock Falls, below I’ve highlighted the three most direct ways. (see map...)
Now that the winter weather is settling in around us, here are a few pointers that will keep you worry free when spending time outside with your little one(s).
Note: As you prepare, remember that if you are carrying a baby on your front and in your coat, your body heat will provide a lot of warmth for them. If you backcarry on top of your jacket, they will not get your body heat. They will also need to be dressed warmer than you since they will be less active than you.
This is that time of year when I get really excited about fall. The leaves, the colors, Halloween!
It is also at this time, that I find it really fun to imagine what my forest will look like in just a couple of months.
Deciduous forests are especially exciting and in particular, the maples. But there are a few main types of maple trees and not all produce the oranges. So, when you are out on your favorite trail, there are a couple of features that will aid your investigation before you begin to predict what your forest will look like.
The main two types of maples to decipher will be the Sugar Maple and the Norway Maple. The leaves of these trees are more difficult to distinguish than the Red Maple or the Silver Maple.
Sugar Maples produce the neon reds and oranges, while Norway Maple leaves turn a brilliant yellow. At this time of year, both leaves will be green, and have about 5 lobes (pointy sections).
Norway leaves are generally bigger, which is why their Latin name, Acer platanoides, makes sense (leaf as big as a plate). If the leaf size is smaller, gently pull a leaf off and look at the base of the stem. If a milky white substance appears on the stem, it is a Norway Maple. If not, it is a Sugar Maple…and you know which one to tap in the spring ;)
You may want to draw your prediction to take along when you explore this fall. Happy hiking!