The Three Cs: Raising a Child Who Loves Nature
Krista Dooley, parent and the youth and volunteer programs director at WTA, on how a simple walk in the woods with her young daughter builds curiosity, courage and confidence.
Krista Dooley is the Youth and Volunteer Programs Director at WTA, and mother to a budding young hiker. She's had eighteen months of getting used to hiking with a toddler, and found that spending time outside, no matter how hard it might be to get out there, rewards parent and child by developing independence and a sense of adventure.
In my years as a hiker, I always admired families sharing the trail. As I passed, I would take mental notes of the tricks other parents used to keep the kids motivated and moving. I knew someday I wanted to have a family of my own to share my passion for the outdoors.
Then, in 2016, I became a parent. Since then, I have learned a lot and have even more respect and admiration for families who get outdoors regularly. As a parent, it takes a lot of motivation and perseverance to even leave the house. On each adventure there's a 50/50 chance of tears and complaints, moments of defiance or overwhelming joy. Outside adventures will likely end in complete exhaustion from either the adult or the kid. But ... once we get out the door and set foot on trail I know it’s all worth it.
There are so many benefits to living in a place with access to local green space and trails. I have found the frequency of short hikes and outdoor adventures has helped me encourage my daughter to discover the natural world at her own pace and give her the freedom to explore.
So, on an unusually warm and sunshine filled day in March, I ventured out to a local park near my home, with my two-year-old daughter. I was taking a gamble heading out with limited timing before her usual nap, but knew that we needed to stretch our legs and take advantage of the opportunity to soak up some vitamin D after a long gray winter of hiking covered head-to-toe in rain gear. I take these moments of opportunity when they come in order to help build and strengthen the three C’s.
I’ve noticed the more my daughter gets outside the more she becomes comfortable and interested in the things around her. She uses all of her senses to understand and process her surroundings.
On this particular day she seemed to want to touch everything. She picked up cones, sticks, examined tree branches and ran her hands along tree trunks looking for bugs and other signs of animals.
Returning to the same local park with some frequency has expanded my daughters interest to try new things. We stopped to look at a robin who was sitting on a tree branch then flew off to another location up the hillside. Although I often remind her about staying near me on the trail, she seems to be attracted to alternative routes.
My daughter decided she, too, wanted to explore the hillside, and she started climbing the steep bank. Grabbing ferns and Indian plum branches she made her way up until she needed more help. Then, we negotiated a plan for her to climb down and I provided support in the process.
Once back on the trail she smiled and pointed to the hillside exclaiming, “I did it just like the birdie!”
Being outside allows my daughter to engage in different activities that she doesn’t get from being at home. She uses her imagination in a way that often makes me smile and wonder.
I saw a down log on the side of the trail and she saw a horse to ride. She walked up to the log then asked it if she could go for a ride and climbed on.
As she climbed on I asked if she noticed the damp moss on the log and let her know that she might get a little wet. She responded “It’s okay if I get wet and dirty, Mom. Let’s go horsey!”
Getting outside with two in tow
I have cherished our outings together over the past two years and noticed that even as an infant, taking my daughter outside was a good strategy to calm her down. This spring she will become a big sister and I will have the opportunity to share my passion for the outdoors with another little one.
I’m looking forward to this new adventure, and slightly nervous about the logistics of getting out the door with two kids. But, I know it’s possible and will be just as rewarding. I’ve talked to my husband about making plans for special outdoor adventure dates with just my two-year old to continue providing moments for us to focus on helping her be curious, courageous and confident whether that be at a local park or destinations further away.
So far, the only downside I’ve found to living close to parks and trails is that the car ride home is too short for my daughter to fall sound asleep and stay asleep as we transition to the house for naptime. Even so, I know we will be back to visit the trails this summer with baby number two in tow. And I look forward to sharing many outdoor adventures together as a growing family.
Read more from other parents about their experience hiking with kids. Got a story of your own? Share it in the comments below.