Exploring 101

Life’s Little Lessons – My Thoughts on Hiking with Kids

hiking kids
Written by Chelsea Champion

In a world run by adults, we often overlook and underestimate a child’s perspective. They play with bugs, they roll in dirt, they blurt out anything that comes to their mind. We see these qualities as juvenile, something to be refined (and hopefully disposed of) with age. We assume we are the older, wiser, more mature beings and we overshadow or completely dismiss the opinions and activities of our tiny counterparts.

But I think they’re on to something.

They see the world in a way we no longer are able (or willing) to. They’ve not yet been jaded by life’s unpleasant mishaps or bogged down by the tiring responsibilities that come with adulthood. Children see things for what they are and tell it like it is. To me, this is a gift. We’re all born with it, but as we go through life and are shaped by the society that we live in, we lose the child inside of us. It is chiseled away bit by bit, piece by piece, until we become something akin to a well-rounded “normal” adult.

At my previous job, I used to interact with children on the daily, but stuck in the confines of the workplace I didn’t always get to see or appreciate their innocence for what it’s worth (keep in mind that I also worked with adolescents, who are already deep into the process of losing their childhood charm). It was a rare and enjoyable occasion that I get to spend time with anyone under the ripe old age of 12. But one Spring weekend I had the pleasure of meeting up with a friend for a short hike, who decided to also bring along her 4 year old son, Max, and his 6 year old friend, Emma, which made for quite the adventure (and learning experience!).

Observing the children during our jaunt up the mountain and sharing this experience with them helped bring to light several aspects of life that I realize we as adults take for granted.

Patience

No one ever said that hiking with kids was easy. There’s a great deal of stopping (to rest, to explore), detours (you have to check out every side trail or rock ledge, or anything with a stream. Or stick. Or bugs.), and also a fair share of whining (those little feet get tired!). Usually when I hike I am all business: I rush up the path to get to my destination, and once I get there I rest a bit, snap a few pictures, and again head on my way. But taking to the trails with two small children slowed me down, forced me to take my time and to be patient. Hell, by the time we finished I was thankful to have even made it up the mountain!

Appreciate the little things

Have you ever noticed how children are amused by the simplest things? Boxes. Sticks. Mud. Water. Basically anything that can get them dirty or in trouble, really. But this shows how appreciative they are of life’s little miracles. Dandelions to us are weeds. But to children they are perceived as beautiful flowers that they gift away by the bouquet to loved ones. Pine cones, rocks? We pay these things no mind as they crunch underneath our shoes. Meanwhile, children will pick up and inspect each and every one, treating it as a unique and special treasure, maybe even starting a collection of their specimen to bring home (much to mom’s dismay). I’m not saying go out and overturn every log you pass by or splash in every creek that crosses your path (but hey, I won’t stop you if that’s what you want to do!), but take a little more time to be aware of your surroundings and immerse yourself in the moment. If anything, it will take your mind off of all life’s stress for a few minutes.

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Everything’s an adventure

Similarly, even the most mundane activities can be seen as an adventure through a child’s eyes. One of the most popular complaints during our hike was that the trail us adults chose was “boring.” So to make it more interesting, Max and Emma decided they were going to forge their own path through the trees and brush. This slowed us down a great deal, but I couldn’t help but enjoy their sense of adventure. As if realizing this, Emma remarked, “Isn’t it more fun in all this ‘wildness’?” Eventually, because of time constraints, we got everyone back on the trail, but this didn’t stifle the spirit of our two explorers. After all, we were on our way to the “castle” at the top of the mountain! In reality, it was only a stone observation tower, but calling it a castle made the whole journey much more magical and exciting. And all this excitement could barely be contained as Emma kept reciting to all passersby that “the castle is up this way!”

Don’t sweat the small stuff

We were only out on the trail for maybe two hours, but it seems as though we accumulated a whole day’s worth of muddy feet, wet shoes, scraped knees, and tired legs. There was certainly some whining associated with all of this misfortune, but you live and you learn. Kids are blessed with a very forgiving (or perhaps just short-term?) memory. Something unpleasant only feels like a disaster in the moment. Once that moment passes, life is all sunshine and rainbows once again. Meanwhile, us cranky adults pitch our own monumental fits over what, in the scheme of things, should only be a minor issue. The pressures of work, family disputes, housework. Whatever it is that we currently stress over on a day to day basis will not always concern us a year or two from now. Will that coffee stain on your new dress shirt ruin the rest of your career? No. Will that argument you had with your roommate still affect your relationship a month from now? Possibly. But should you let it preoccupy your thoughts every waking moment from now until then? No. Take a tip from the kids: sometimes it may benefit us to just let go of an issue and keep it moving.

Love your body

As humans, we can do some pretty amazing things with our bodies, and I think we forget that. There are 90-something year olds who run marathons. People have climbed Mount Everest. People have been to the moon and back. As the saying goes, anything is possible. And our bodies and minds are what make many of these feats possible. Watching how easily and nimbly the kids climbed up the rocks and through the trees really led me to appreciate the versatility and strength many of us are blessed with. However, not everyone is fortunate enough to be so able-bodied, and even those of us who are lose a great degree of this with age. Even at 23 I can barely keep up with the boundless energy of two small children! So appreciate your body and take care of it while you still have the chance.

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Don’t be afraid to branch out and try new things

One of the many endearing (and for parents and caretakers – scary!) qualities of children is that they are often fearless. I remember my own childhood, taking it upon myself to explore alone in the “unknown” forests surrounding my house, or building that dirtbike jump just a little too high. But to me it was fun and exciting. I was not aware of or concerned about the consequences, I just hoped something cool would come of it. This is in part fearlessness, and in part carelessness. Fear and caution are not inherently negative qualities – they are tools of self-preservation. But when we become adults we tend to become too cautious and afraid – neglecting to take risks because of the chance it may disrupt our sense of security or put a bump in our routine. But with such an intense and guarded worry about our security we also run the risk of missing out on new, possibly rewarding, opportunities in life. We become complacent and set in our ways, which may eventually lead to regret and contempt for the comfortable and boring life we chose to live. Reach out and take a little of that wild side back – it can make your life a whole lot more interesting.

Rediscover your imagination

Imagination is not a faculty reserved solely for children. Imagination is timeless and necessary for all. It’s the cousin to creativity and a close friend to inspiration. Yet again, it is something lost, or at least subdued, with age. Which to me is such a shame. The lack of imagination takes the fun out of a lot of activities. As part of a generation in which much of the news, media, and external stimuli in general are force-fed to us as a passive audience, we don’t have much say in how we are able to consume or perceive the world around us. So it is more important now than ever to carve out pockets of time and space in which we can dedicate ourselves to creating something new, or even just thinking outside the box. Kids don’t need to discipline or reeducate themselves in this matter, they have traditionally lived their lives through imaginative eyes. But today, sometimes even the children need a push in the right direction. With many growing up Ipads in hand, able to navigate all of the apps in mom’s smartphone before learning to read, being outdoors and relying on their own imagination seems like a thing of the past. Or at least very unpopular. Needless to say, it was refreshing to see two children so happy and so absorbed in something as simple as a walk in the woods.

So thank you Max and Emma for giving me a little hope and humility during an experience I still remember even months later. Keep on exploring! And thank you to my friend Katrina for (albeit unknowingly) making this happen and for letting me share this story. <3

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About the author

Chelsea Champion

Chelsea Champion is a contributing writer and self-proclaimed adventurer living in Nashville, Tennessee. Born and raised in Upstate New York, the mountains (and a loathing for winter) are in her blood. She is always looking for new places to hike and explore - bonus points if they include swimming holes! When she’s not taking to the trails, you can find her cuddling with other people’s dogs or cheering obnoxiously for the Buffalo Bills. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @chelseathachamp.

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