Have you heard of vitamin N? According to author, Richard Louv, the N is for nature. He’s written several books about the value of nature for healthy development and quality of life, such as Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life and Last Child in the Woods where he introduced the term “nature deficit disorder.” There is an increasing amount of science showing the benefits of time outside in a natural environment, including improved health and learning.
Few of us would disagree that nature is good for the soul. We feel better and notice positive changes in the children around us after we’ve spent time outside. One way to get a super dose of nature is to take the children tramping. Just going for a walk in the woods is inspiring for most children, and sleeping in a hut or a tent in the bush is even more so. Facts and fun tell us to give it a go, but getting into nature and tramping with little ones can be daunting at first.
To get started, pledge to make walking a part of your family’s weekly routine, the more often the better, but at least once per week. You can walk around the block or find a short walking track near you.
Don’t let the weather put you off. If it’s wet, wear rain gear. If it’s cold, bundle up. If it’s hot, cover up and stay hydrated. Consistent short walks will help adults and children become more confident getting outside and everyone will begin to look forward to it. Walks don’t need to be long, especially if the conditions are particularly unfavourable, just be sure to get outside for 5 or 10 minutes.
As you’re walking, give children plenty of time and space to wander and wonder. They may meander along and suddenly begin to sprint, pausing only to jump in a mud puddle. They will collect treasured rocks and sticks and start to notice spider webs and bird calls. Take the time to be with them without directing the pace or the conversation, but beware that nature time can cause curious questions to come bursting forth.
Be sure to give your child a small bag or backpack to carry. This helps to define the adventure as an exciting mission rather than a boring old walk. You’re going somewhere fascinating and everyone plays an important part. Small children might carry just a few crackers or a small drink bottle. Help them feel proud of their accomplishment in carrying their own supplies. Eating a snack at the turnaround point is a natural way of providing positive reinforcement for their efforts.
Walking can be more fun when you bring a friend, sing a song, or tell a story. Use all your senses. What can you see, hear, smell, feel? You might even find something safe to taste.
When walking, children might feel tired. Don’t shy away from acknowledging their fatigue, but don’t dwell on it either. Have a rest and keep going. Or perhaps it’s time to have a snack and turn around.
The most important thing is to build on success. Start small, persist through minor hurdles, and try it all again next week. Remember that even small doses of Vitamin N make a difference. You might even find that Vitamin N is addictive.
Meg Drive loves to share her passion for tramping adventures with friends, family, and especially children. Meg was born in Canada before moving to New Zealand where she makes her home with her partner and two children. Meg has written about becoming Kiwi, exploring the New Zealand wilderness, and the wilds of modern family life. You can follow Meg’s adventures on Facebook and on her website MegDrive.com.