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{resources education}

Nature’s Playground Hikes to Celebrate 100 Years of the National Park Service by Jeff Alt

As we celebrate the 100th birthday of

want to implement this as a routine part of

will remember the soft grass and the

the National Park Service this year, it is

family life, consider this: Your adventure

rough texture of bark. Their eyes will track

a great time to explore the Shenandoah

together in the park is a great time to

the deer moving through the meadow and

National

your

bond as a family, when you are removed

the hawk soaring across the blue sky.

backyard, the wilderness is an important

from all your domestic distractions and

Your toddler will be thrilled to saddle

natural,

have the opportunity to instill one of the

his own adventure pack and hit the trail

greatest gifts you can give your child—an

with the promise of his favorite lunch

appreciation for nature.

on a picnic. Suggest a few items to pack

Park.

Practically

multi-dimensional

in place

for

children to explore, learn and grow. Carving out a regular family National

46

Park adventure is a great strategy to

And it’s never too early to start.

along like binoculars and a camera to take

get your children outside and moving.

Look no further than the research that

pictures of cool things they discover. Let

Walking and hiking are two of the simplest

supports early intervention and preschool

him lead the pace and focus your attention

and healthiest forms of exercise there are

education for affirmation that what you

to whatever he takes interest in—“child-

and are associated with weight loss, stress

expose your children to at the youngest

directed hiking.” Play games like I spy, or

relief and can even act as an aids in the

of ages will have a lasting impact

look under rocks for little creatures. You

treatment of depression. New research

throughout their lives. Their little brains

may only get a short distance down the

correlates hiking in nature with increased

are developing rapidly from birth to 5

trail, but they will feel empowered and

creativity, something I already knew from

years of age. Expose children to nature at

will have so much fun that they will want

my own lifelong hiking experiences that

the youngest of ages and they will encode

to go again and again. Your school-age

included an Appalachian Trail journey

that into who they are. Infants may not

child will be able to shoulder some of the

from Georgia to Maine, a trek across the

yet talk, but they absorb everything using

gear necessary for hiking—water, rain

California John Muir Trail with my wife,

their natural senses. Carry them in a child

parka, maps, plant identification guides,

a family journey across Ireland while

carrier and stop frequently to let them

etc.—and based on their age and ability,

shouldering my 21-month-old daughter

explore using all their senses. Their ears

they should be able to reach some of the

and over 18 years of hiking in the

will hear a bird chirping; their olfactory

summit views of Shenandoah Valley or

Shenandoah.

will register the fragrance of fresh flowers

one of the many spectacular waterfalls to

Many of my best ideas come to me on

and the scent of musty clay after an early

splash their feet in.

the trail. If this isn’t enough to make you

morning rain. Their little hands and feet

October 2016

Skyline Drive makes it easy for

CharlottesvilleFamily's BLOOM October 2016  

Volume 17 Issue 10

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