As my thoughts turn to spring with its warmer weather and more time outdoors, I start to think about the activities my children and I enjoyed the most. My two sons and my granddaughter loved hiking in the woods. Although, my daughter always loved walking and walked early and well, she hated the woods. She often didn’t want to go outdoors at all unless we were actually going somewhere, even if it was a random walk. I remember locking her go outside with a bag full of books. If I didn’t lock the door, she would sneak back in as soon as my back was turned. But the others loved it! Even babies benefit from being outside. I remember taking one of my grandsons outdoors when he was fussy because he would always stop crying and gaze up at the big maple tree with it's canopy of green leaves. It worked everytime.
There are lots of wonderful hiking places in our area for kids of all ages. My favorite go-to hiking spot for very young kids is Five Rivers Environmental Education Center which has hikes of different levels of difficulty and a fun nature center. Thatcher Park is the same. Although the Indian Ladder Trail is too difficult for the very young, we always loved going to the Knowles Flats picnic area and looking for fossils in and along the stream. The Emma Treadwell Nature Center is close by as is Thompson’s Lake, if you’re interested in swimming or camping. Christman Sanctuary in Duanesburg is another fun place but also a little difficult for the very young. I couldn’t possibly name all of the wonderful places to hike near the bigger cities. That’s one of the things I love about this area. Although, I lived in the country for quite a while when my children were young, I still took them to these places. There are well-marked trails, and you can often get trail guides to educate or just for fun. Soon, you’ll be able to see and hear frogs of all kinds, see the animals coming out of hibernation, the birds building their nests and the geese returning to the north.
I always loved making my own nature scavenger hunts for the kids. They had so much fun, and it honed their observational skills. I chose simple things at first like a squirrel, chipmunk, robin, a feather, a pinecone, acorn or an early wildflower, maybe even a footprint in the mud. As they get better at it, you can step it up and ask them to find a mushroom, a nest in a tree, frog eggs in a pond, signs of a snake. I often find photos of the things I want them to find and print them out on one sheet to check off as we find them. There is so much out there to see and hear. I’ve also made up audible scavenger hunts. What sounds do they hear? A bird song? A goose? A frog? A plane flying overhead or the sound of traffic in the distance? The more we turn these outdoor adventures into fun, the less afraid they often are of harmless wildlife like spiders or snakes. Mud season is a great time to look for animal tracks. Be sure you wear good mud boots if you go out in the spring, though. If you are living in the city, it’s easy to forget that the woods take longer to warm up and dry out. I have made that mistake myself. It’s also often cooler in the woods, so be prepared.
Preparation is key to taking young people out into the woods anyway. I always have water and snacks with me. Oranges are a great refreshing hiking snack. I also have some kind of wash cloth or wipes, just in case. Sweaters or jackets can be worn around the waist if you are too warm, but if you don’t have them, it can end a wonderful time very quickly. My kids were never very patient about discomfort, and who can blame them? It’s also fun to bring an inexpensive camera for your kids to use themselves. There’s nothing like a child’s perspective. Although you’re not supposed to take anything out of the woods in a State Park, my kids would often pick up a pretty rock, pinecone or acorns. Rather than finding them in their pockets later, I always brought along a small bag, just in case. You’ll figure all of this out as you go along, just like I did. The main thing is to just get out and enjoy nature. It’s healthy, makes them more aware of their surroundings and, it’s a great way to keep your kids away from their screens. Let me know some of your favorite hiking spots in the Capital Region.