Toddlers, by anyone’s admission, are a crazy bunch. They are gloriously unpredictable: palatable and compliant one minute, then charging headlong on a collision course the next minute, intent on inflicting maximum physical and emotional damage on anyone daft enough to be in their way. While some people might consider any parent willing to explore the great outdoors and its lack of parameters, soft landing zones and creature comforts, with a two-foot bundle of highly explosive TNT as crackers, we think we’re on to a winner. We firmly believe that toddlers, as crazy as they are, are remarkable little humans when they’re outside. As such, here are our top 5 things that we’ve learned about hiking with toddlers. Enjoy…
Some sections of society would have us believe that very young children need wrapping up in cotton wool. The problem is that many of those children who are overly protected from an early age go on to become teenagers and then adults who struggle to develop any sense of meaningfulresilience. The great outdoors and adventurous activities are simply great for developing resilience.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you take your toddlers out in a storm anytime soon, clearly there needs to be a sense of perspective, but one thing that I’ve learned from our two toddlers is that, because they have been out in all weathers and temperatures from being very young, now that they are old enough to dissent and pull the old drop and flop on the floor, they are now happy and prepared to go out in any weather and temperatures. Our two know that they’re not made of sugar and won’t dissolve at the first sight of rain. Instead, they look at rainy days as an opportunity to get their waterproof boots and clothing on and go out for a splash and to get mucky. I know teenagers who groan at the merest sight of a hill and yet I have two toddlers who see a hill and want to climb it because they know there will be a picnic at the top. Resilience is a wonderful thing that grows slowly and steadily like a plant. But left uncared for it’ll wither and die before your eyes.
They have amazing memories
We have been lucky enough to explore some beautiful regions and trails and, while not every aspect sticks with them, they do, often months later, chirp up about some random thing that they experienced while out adventuring. Just last night, our eldest, who’s 5, starting talking about some rabbits he’d seen while we were all out together. Now, by way of deduction (following a million and one questions), we were able to pinpoint that he was talking about a stretch of coastal path on Anglesey. We were also able to ascertain that all of this happened last summer (we’re now in March!).
It really does go to show that the experiences we give them while they are enjoying their formative years will stay with them and likely form their later choices in life. Now, again, I’m not saying that I’m desperate for our two to follow in our footsteps exactly, but even if it results in them caring about nature and the environment and finding some sort of way to get to some physical and mental health exercise, then I’ll see it as a job well done. I adore the fact that our two randomly spark up conversations with us about their memories of camping trips, wildlife encounters and hikes. As the saying goes: kids won’t remember their best day of television!
They spot more features and wildlife than we do
Now, I haven’t got the best eyesight in the world, but I do invariably don my contact lenses for our family hikes and adventures. This is as much to do with navigation and feature- spotting as anything else and, yet, I still do not pick up half of the details that our kids pick up.
There’s clearly something to be said for being about 2 foot tall. Our 3-year-old is awesome at spotting bugs and the like, which we often stop to gawp at and then check off in our RSPB Bird and Bug book. This may seem like a simple thing but doing this keeps them happy and entertained out on the trail, and there’s not a hope in hell I’d spot anywhere near as many as they do.
Our 5-year-old, who at a comparatively lofty 3 and a half feet tall,uses his young eyes and slight height advantage to spot features in the distance. Given that I’m 6-foot-tall, I always find it remarkable that he’s often able to check off features before I do, even when I have my contact lenses in. Oh, to able to see the world through young eyes again!
They Care about the Environment
As we have taken our kids on hikes where we litter-pick as we walk, they now talk about litter and pollution wherever we go. In as simplistic terms as we could muster, we explained that litter is bad for wildlife and bad for the environment. They now understand that birds and animals can be harmed by eating items carelessly discarded by people. They know that pieces of plastic in streams and rivers can find their way into the sea and entangle or be ingested by aquatic animals. As a result, they are growing up, even at this tender age, to care about the environment around them. Being outside, walking trails, playing near waterfalls, picnicking on mountains has shown them how naturally beautiful the world can be. They, in their innocent little heads, just want to keep it that way.
They are wonderfully creative
As I walk along river trails and mountain passes, I do so simply to relax. Being outdoors is my escape. Very often I can finish a route and not remember anything specific that has entered my brain apart from the things that I’ve seen and experienced over the duration of my walk or run. My head just empties and nourishes itself with the views that my eyes take in.
While all of that sounds pretty idyllic – and it is – our toddlers approach the outdoors in an altogether different manner. If I take our most recent family-friendly group hike that we organised across a section of the Clwydian Range for some like-minded local families, rather than relaxing, breathing in the views and contemplating how peaceful it was, our two, along with the other children who joined us with their parents that day, spent most of the day playing dinosaurs. From bits of films, like Jurassic Park, and educational kids programmes that they’ve watched on CBeebies, like Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures, they were able to relate the ancient landscape that we were walking through to the imagined and/or likely habitat of a dinosaur. They stalked each other through gorse and heather, they attacked through treelines and they laid eggs (using large rounded stones that they found) in places well hidden from predators. And this wasn’t a mere one-off either. They always engage in imaginative play when we’re outdoors and, as a parent, it’s pretty special to watch.
So, there you have it…our top 5 things that we’ve learned about toddlers from hiking with them. What have you learned about your kids from watching them in the great outdoors? As always, I’d be interested to hear.