A group of seven 7-9 year old, their teacher, Lili, and I took a 4-mile day hike along the Chattahoochee River. This trail is superb in so many ways. It starts out flat along the river, the uphills are only in the middle of the hike, there are several scenic overlooks, there is an awesome bamboo forest and rock ledge overlook at the far end of the loop, and the hike ends with a downhill. Because this was a younger group than I often hike with, it was important to design a hike that would push the kids physically, but that included lots of opportunity for play, exploration, and varied terrain. This trail was exactly that, and the kids had a great time.
Learning on these day hikes comes in several forms. We look at the plants around us and do some identification – hickory trees, trillium flowers about to bloom, river cane.
On another level, we promote the idea that the woods are for exploring, rocks are for climbing, and fallen trees are for balancing on. We facilitate the kids learning to connect to nature on physical level. I believe that physical connection leads to love of nature and good stewardship.
The biggest growth I see is in their confidence. I believe that the ability to walk up a mountain is partly physical, but primarily a question of confidence. During the March hike, this was clearly evident. Several children were struggling to walk up a steep hill, so they decided to trade backpacks (even though no one’s pack was significantly lighter than anyone else’s). Upon switching backpacks, they declared how “light” their packs were, and proceeded to motor up the hill. The smallest girl on the trip even asked to switch backpacks with me. I told her mine was way too heavy (containing first aid kit, extra clothes, extra water, etc.), but she insisted, took my pack, and powered up the hill none-the-less. In learning to be confident in their physical capabilities, the kids gain the strength of knowing that “they can, even when they think they can’t.” It is for this reason that I lead hikes.
On this hike, one young man in particular climbed EVERY rock, tree and dirt pile (left). However, all the students were adventurous. When I asked if they wanted to go the “crazy rock-climbing way” or the trail, guess what they chose? Luckily, I sometimes speak in hyperbole, so there was nothing crazy about it, nor any rock-climbing, just a good off-trail scramble.
Another young man started the hike saying, “I don’t want to go.” Since I knew he had a good sense of directions and could read maps well, I gave him my trail map and asked him to lead. He did a superb job and never took us the wrong way.
On every trip, there are many moments like this one in which a student feeling defeated, tired, grumpy, or scared. But fun, exploration, and contentment seem to regularly prevail!
I’m going to end this post with a series of photos, but you should really check out all the photos on Facebook, as the blue sky and photogenic kids made for lots of good pictures.