Active Play

Turn Hiking with Your Kids into a Nature-Based Adventure

Jun 3, 2013

On my daughter L's first birthday, we moved from subway line to suburb. Leaving Toronto ironically placed us closer than ever to the city's Rouge Park, so I started volunteering there as a hike leader.

I have always liked the idea of heading off manicured paths and onto trails, exploring forests and fields while keeping an eye out for wildlife. Hiking's good exercise, especially for those of us less-than-athletically inclined. I was never sufficiently coordinated to play soccer or throw a football around, but my childhood days were still very active. My best friend and I explored marshes along Lake Ontario for hours or traced frozen creeks in the snow. I'd go on midnight walks with my dad in cottage country, armed with a flashlight and an overactive imagination. Now, I want similar outings with my three-year-old.

Part of my rationale is the sheer physical fitness of it all. It's nice being outdoors and moving. There's also a small part of me trying to ensure that I'm raising a fearless girl who can literally/figuratively get her hands dirty. And I'm also an animal nerd—the kind who changes the rhyme scheme in his daughter's picture books because some author doesn't know her buffalo from a bison, or his monkey from a chimpanzee.

We're lucky enough to live across the street from a wooded lot, and I've spotted a family of either Cooper's or Sharp-Shinned hawks living there (my iBird app isn't foolproof). Deer and coyote have been known to make their way through the forest, too. After rains, L and I regularly throw on boots and binoculars to go find worms (always), toads (sometimes) and salamanders (never).

There are two fallen trees she loves—one to hop over, another to slide under (the latter tends to have a big pile of raccoon poop on it, which she never fails to gleefully point out). L is constantly searching for squirrels, and says she loves the smell of largely scentless trilliums. It's a pretty great time.

L knows our basic rules of hiking:

  1. We always put on sunscreen and hats.
  2. We always bring water.
  3. We cover as much of our legs as possible. (Daddy learned the hard way about poison ivy last year.)
  4. We don't pick wildflowers or step on bugs (on purpose, anyway).
  5. Most importantly, L knows if she ever gets separated from me (at this point, pretty unlikely), she has to hug a tree and yell for me, staying put until I find her.

The last time we went for a hike, a relatively small Eastern garter snake slithered in front of us, getting out of the way. At first, L was excited. ("Is it a mommy snake? I think it's a mommy snake!") But then, she became a little wary.

"Carry me," she finally ordered. "There might be more snakes."
"But you're not scared of snakes," I politely protested. "We've read books about them, and you even petted a really big one at that festival. He was gentle, remember?"
"Carry me," she repeated. "I like snakes, but I don't know these ones."

For the next half-hour or so, I hoisted up my three-year-old, who was much heavier than I remembered, and carried our big backpack of water bottles and found pinecones. Somehow, our quick trip to the forest left me more exhausted than my usual two-hour expeditions along the Rouge's postcard-pretty cliffs and treed trails. It reminded me no matter how you approach it, hiking's a pretty good way for parents and preschoolers to stay fit! 


Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock 'n' roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no-ish hair and edits technical articles. He and his wife are collaborating on a three-year-old girl who may already be smarter than both of them. He received his MA in Journalism from the University of Western Ontario.

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