Dr. Jackson

Last Friday afternoon, I took my kids on a lovely little nature walk at the Rogers Conservation Education Reserve. Apologies to anyone else who might have been on the trail that day if we were a little loud. We tramped up and down and around and explored the different trails. It had been a few months since we had done a true “nature walk” and it reminded me of how much fun we have when we take that time to be out in nature in a different place than our usual routes around our house.

Nature walks can be a blast for everyone, and a fun way to incorporate exercise, nature and family time. Nature walks don’t have to be complicated, but a few planning steps and reminders can smooth the path.

--Know your area and your kids. Think about whether you will need mid-walk snacks/drinks or if that can be done back at the car or the house. Think about whether your kids will need firmer shoes for rock scrambling or if they will need sunscreen if there are more open areas.

--Consider your child’s tolerance. Most trails these days will have the distance marked, or you can use a trail or map app to plot the distance. Plan accordingly, whether that is picking the spot where you will turn around, or making sure you have a stroller or backpack/carrying option available for the ones who get tired easily. Luckily, there are many parks and conservation areas that are at least partially accessible and will be stroller friendly. For example, the Rogers Conservation Education Reserve has several trails that are accessible and paved for easy stroller walks, but it also has some dirt trails for the off-the-beaten-path types.

--Use your senses. Talk to your kids on the way to the trail about things that you might see – animals, trees, leaves, flowers, etc. Spark their interest in looking for a specific object, and then have them point it out to you on the trail. If you know something about it, you can tell them. Or you can have them describe it to you.

An example might be priming your children to look for a green leaf. When they find one, you may not know what kind of tree it is from, but you can lead your children through describing it – what color green do you see? Is it smooth or bumpy? Does it have points and how are the points shaped? Does it have a central stem? Then when you get home, you can look up and find out more about the leaf and the tree from which it originated.

--If there are maps, use the maps! My kids love to plan their route. We don’t always use the route that they plan, but they have fun following the trail on the picture and then seeing where they want to go next. Map reading could be reviewing north, south, east, west, or you can help guide them to think about if they will go left or right at a turn. Have fun with it.

Be flexible, be smart and be patient! You can do this!

Katie Jackson, M.D., is a pediatrician for Utica Park Clinic Claremore.

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