Take the time to take a walk in the woods with kids

When is the last time you took your kids outdoors to play? We’re not talking about participating in a soccer game, we’re talking about parents and children going outdoors together and exploring.

You don’t need to wait for an organized walk. You and your kids can spend an hour or two after school or on a weekend, and have a great time that happens to come with a lot of benefits.

So why do this? There are lots of reasons. Here are a few: Research has shown that having children spend time outdoors investigating nature teaches them to be more creative and to develop better powers of observation. It improves their ability to concentrate, and to be more independent thinkers. It also relieves stress and anxiety and allows an opportunity for exercise. A few hours a week outdoors can build an understanding of, and a real appreciation for, the value of the environment around us. It can also facilitate the bonding of family, and create memories that last a lifetime.

Here are some questions you can ask your kids while on your adventure:

? Where did all the leaves go that fell in the woods or we dumped there last fall?

? What kind of trees will we see?

? What animals will we see?

? What sounds will we hear?

Where will you go? You could start with your own back woods if you have some. Bedford has numerous properties many of which are free and very accessible. If you’d like open spaces where you and your kids can run, try the Benedictine Property or the Heritage Trail along the Merrimack River. Pulpit Rock, Earl Legacy Park, the Van Loan Preserve, Mueller Park, the Goad Trail off of Hardy Road all offer trails through the woods. Joppa Hill Farm and the woods behind McKelvie School offer open fields and trails.

What should you wear? Long pants, socks and good walking shoes. Bring bug repellent, binoculars and a magnifying glass. Depending on your children’s ages, bring a pencil and notebook in which they can write down or draw things they see or hear.

Once you’re out in the woods, there are some things to remember:

Walk quietly and listen. The animals will know you’re there. If you want to hear them, they need time to get used to your presence, and they’ll realize you are not there to harm them. Then, they’ll resume their normal business and conversations.

What kind of trees grow in the woods? Conifers (softwoods) and deciduous (hardwoods) trees? Look at the dead trees. They serve as homes for many creatures and as a place for molds and mushrooms to grow.

What kind of animals can you find? Do they live in open spaces or a dense section of the woods? Turn over an old piece of tree. You probably will find worms, bugs and newts. Who lives in the little holes they find near the base of a tree trunk?

Can you tell the difference between the voices of birds and chipmunks? If you’re in an open area you may see turkeys, birds and butterflies.

If you’re near water you might see turtles, frogs and minnows. You might come across a vernal pool. Let your kids know that this is one of the richest areas in the woods, because it’s the place where many babies are born and so the beginning of the food chain for many animals. There is a beaver dam at the Van Loan Preserve and streams through many of the properties, which could lead to discussion of the meaning of a watershed and the water cycle.

While you’re having fun, remember that you’re enriching your children’s lives. They’re not spectators here, their experience is first hand.

Carol Andersen-Botsford

Trustee, Bedford Land Trust

Sources: nhchildrenin
nature.org; Childrennature
network; Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv