There are so many great opportunities for exploration outdoors in the Pacific Northwest. Accessibility to the natural world is convenient even if you live in the city. A short drive to Point Defiance Park or Tolmie State Park, or a longer excursion to Mount Rainier National Park, lead to fun adventures for the whole family and memories that will last a lifetime.
Here are some tips for having an enjoyable and successful trail adventure outdoors with your kids.
A little bit of planning can go a long way when heading outdoors with the kids so that everyone has a positive experience. While you don’t need a bunch of gear to have a fun time, you will want to make sure that you are prepared for the weather. Sturdy, close-toed shoes are a must to help everyone stay safe and comfortable on the trail. Consider wearing rubber boots if you are heading out on a rainy or post-rainy day.
Wearing layers is another way to keep everyone happy because layers can be removed or added as needed. Another necessity for adults and kids alike — snacks and water. With all of that extra energy being spent along the trail, you’ll want to have a healthy snack or two on hand as a pick-me-up when energy levels are low. You may even want to pack a picnic if you plan on being out for an extended period of time.
Finally, know a bit about the location you are visiting before you arrive. Is the trail stroller-accessible? Will there be any elevation gain? Are there bathrooms at the trailhead? Most of these questions can be answered with a simple internet search.
As you prepare for the trip or on the drive, it might be fun to talk about how animals are prepared for the weather. This is a good chance to talk about some of the differences between mammals and birds. If you need help with this topic, visit the Tacoma Nature Center from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. There is an exhibit that demonstrates the differences and similarities for you.
By acting responsibly when exploring outdoors, we ensure future generations are able to enjoy the natural environment, too. Set trail etiquette expectations before starting out on the trail and reinforce those expectations by leading by example. Some simple rules to emphasize with kids are to stay on the established path and leave nature where you found it. You could even go a step further and leave the trails nicer than you found them. Pack a garbage bag and some gloves, and pick up any trash you find along the way. By modeling respect and responsibility to your children while on the trail, it sends the message that this place is special, delicate and important.
It is OK if you don’t know the name of every tree, plant or little creature you see while out on the trail. Being curious alongside your kids can lead to new learning opportunities together. Bring a camera to document your findings and look them up when you get home, or bring a field guide with you and learn a new plant or bird while out on the trail. You could even make up a name for the plant you found together using descriptive language: “Anyone see that fuzzy, five-fingered leaf?”
Get involved in play and learning while you walk on the trail by trying one of these activities:
Play an animal guessing game by giving clues about the animal’s unique features. For example, you could give one clue at a time until they can guess: “What has smooth, scaly skin? No arms or legs? Slithers along the ground? A snake.”
Act like an animal as you travel down the trail. You could fly like a duck, jump like a frog or scurry like a squirrel. Did you know most ducks fly at speeds of 50-60 mph? Did you know that not all frogs can hop, or even leap? Some just walk. Did you know that it is the long claws on squirrel toes that gives them a firm grip on tree bark?
Encourage using your senses. Close your eyes and count the number of different natural sounds you hear. Go on a texture hunt to find natural items that feel bumpy, smooth, rough, sharp, or slippery. Smell a handful of fallen leaves from the ground. Closely observe the life and activity in 1 square foot of earth alongside the trail.
Create trailside art using found items from the ground. Make a rock tower using different sized stones. Create geometric shapes using fallen leaves or trailside sticks. Remember to only use items found on the trail and don’t disturb living plants or animals.
Grab a few paint swatches the next time you are at local home and garden store and try to find matching colors in nature as you hike. Tip: Don’t just get green color swatches — there are so many colors in nature to discover.
▪ Visit metroparkstacoma.org for a searchable database of area parks and trails.
▪ Visit hikeitbaby.com to join a local group of families that hosts hikes in your community
▪ “Vitamin N: 500 Ways to Enrich the Health & Happiness of Your Family & Community,” by Richard Louv.
▪ “Sharing Nature With Children,” by Joseph Cornell.
▪ “The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms,” by Clare Walker Leslie.