Everyone is a 'kid at heart' on one of our hiking trips
This November 17th, America will celebrate National Hiking Day. As an activity hiking has come a long way since the days when it was simply considered the preserve of the vagrant, or impoverished who could not afford other forms of transport to get from A to B.
That all changed during the Romantic era of the Victorian years which inspired people such as Henry David Thoreau, a naturalist and philosopher who reflected on how to live simply in nature. From then on hiking or walking became a pastime of the educated and grew in popularity.
The Scottish born naturalist and environmentalist John Muir also had a major influence in his adopted homeland of America with calls for hiking to be accessible to every American citizen. So passionate was Muir about protecting and preserving the natural world that in 1890 he petitioned for the creation of the National Park System and thereafter the parks of Yosemite and Sequoia were established. So let's look at the legacy that Muir has left for future generations, and how hiking can benefit children health.
Time spent on the trail exploring nature is a wonderful way to bring families together to bond, especially as parents seek out safe outdoor activities to enjoy while remaining protected from COVID-19. Hiking offers some much-needed physical activity and a healthy break from routine, and the benefits don't stop there.
Research has shown that children in particular are poised to reap some remarkable benefits from their time spent out on the trail. Of course, we don't just mean a good workout -- there arelegitimate cognitive, psychological, and social benefits to be found on their hikes, making National Hiking Day a perfect milestone to celebrate with the whole clan. So let's consider some of the benefits of getting the kids into the outdoors.
It encourages children to test their limits
For children, having some fears is a natural part of life; after all, they're often trying things for the very first time. Overcoming those fears and gaining self confidence is something kids accomplish through trying new things, testing their limitations, and taking age-appropriate risks. Hiking presents opportunities for kids to see what they're capable of, and to try and improve their skills and accomplish new feats. Tackling a new trail or a slope that once scared them will leave them feeling empowered.
It may boost cognitive abilities
Time spent learning about plants, animals, geology, and geography in nature offers opportunities for children to think critically, use their own perceptions, apply undivided attention, and use their recollection skills. Recreational time that actively engages children mentally is great for their cognitive abilities, and hiking certainly fits the bill.
It creates opportunities for sensory learning
During early childhood, much of the way children learn comes through the engagement of their senses. They naturally explore in search of new textures, sounds, tastes, smells, and sensations; doing this is how they complete neural pathways, the synapses in their brain that allow for proper thought. Hiking offers lots of chances for new sensory engagement, which can help kids improve skills at more complex learning tasks going forward, and can also support both motor and language development.
It allows for opportunities to teach in different ways
While some children take quite well to learning from books in the classroom, others seem to thrive when the same information is conveyed to them in more exciting and dynamic ways. Life on the trail offers plenty of opportunities for basic lessons in math, geology, biology, and even history. These opportunities for integrated learning can come in especially handy for parents acting as surrogate secondary educators during the pandemic, as it's a break from worksheets and printouts for something more invigorating.
It helps them to avoid focusing on the negative
When we're feeling worried, sad, or angry, it can be difficult not to ruminate on those feelings. These cycling thought patterns can be destructive and depressing for both adults and children, and breaking the cycle by refocusing their thoughts and energy onto something more positive can help put a stop to bad feelings. In one study on hiking, 90 minutes spent in a green setting was enough to lead to a self-reported reduction in negative thoughts.
It may improve their mental health during adulthood
As parents are all too aware, the stresses and strife of adulthood require a fair bit of resilience to tackle. Being prepared to do so effectively means keeping mental health in focus, making it a priority to engage in self care. Just as time spent in nature is associated with short term improvements to mental health, it's also been correlated with improved mental health in adulthood.
Whether you stick close to home or choose to explore new terrain that's far and away, it's clear that hiking can contribute to the personal growth of children.