According to Oregon State University’s April 2017 study, people who participate in outdoor activities report greater satisfaction in their lives. Hiking, in particular, benefits both children and adults. It strengthens bones and muscles, improves heart and lung health, and may help with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Yet, if you don’t have a lot of hiking options in your area, family hikes might become just another thing on your task list. To keep you and your family motivated to hit the trail, use these seven questions to spark conversations and imaginations:
What do you sense?
Ask your children to use senses other than sight for a new experience. What do they smell on this trail? What could have caused that rustling sound? For sight, talk about colors or shapes to get them thinking beyond the trees and scrub. What red things might they expect to see? What do they think about the trail markers and the person who must have painted them?
What will the future look like?
Take your hike out of the current time and see what your children imagine this trail might look like in five years. What about 500 years? Spark your children’s creativity and see what new ideas they might share. How big will the trees be? What animals will be around, and how have they changed? Will this trail still exist at all?
What did the past look like?
If you know any stories about the past in the area, share them. If you don’t know much or you just want to make your children do the talking, have them create new pasts for the area. Would dinosaurs have walked this path? Was it ever underwater so sharks could swim here? What would it have looked like with cavemen or pirates or whatever else your child likes? Stick to the facts or let the stories spin into wildly inaccurate ideas for the fun of it.
What do you like about hiking?
Ask your children what they enjoy about hiking and what they like about this trail in particular. If you want to focus on the positive parts of hiking, that’s okay, but consider asking your children what they don’t like about this trail. They might have noticed things you’d never see. Maybe they’re concerned about a spooky looking cave you have to pass, or maybe you’ll just learn they have a rock in their shoe.
What places are like this one?
If your children have a grasp on geography, they might be fascinated to know that a canyon trail near their home is similar to the Grand Canyon in the USA or Capertee Valley in Australia. Point out the ways this trail is different from places they might know too. How would this hike be different if it were in the jungle, in the desert, or on Antartica? What would a hiker need to carry in those other places?
Why should we stay on the trail?
A lot of hiking etiquette is based on conserving and protecting the surrounding ecosystem. Discuss the kinds of animals that live in the area and what would happen to them if the area was damaged. Talk about why snakes, bears, bobcats, and other dangerous animals should be allowed to live in peace, even if you don’t like them personally. With older children, ask the hard conservation questions. Should someone be allowed to own the area and build a house? Who should make sure the habitat doesn’t shrink? What should happen if someone found a resource here?
What did you notice earlier?
If the conversation has gotten to be too much for you, play a game with silence. Set the timer on your phone for a few minutes and tell everyone they cannot say anything until the alarm chimes. During that time, have everyone look for something remarkable to explain once they can speak again. Then they can tell you all about a big mushroom, a paw print, or a lizard. This is especially fun on trails that you have to walk both ways, because they can try to find the same thing on the way back.