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You're never too young for a walk in the woods

September 11, 2010|By CELESTE MAIORANA / Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Did I see a squirrel scamper by? As the weather cools, now is the perfect time to take walks with your children into the woods. Let them collect leaves or acorns. Teach them the animals. It might foster a love of nature.
Photo by Celeste Maiorana,

As summer wanes and the mornings and evenings cool, walking in the woods once again becomes a pleasant activity.

In addition to providing fresh air and exercise, walking in a forest with young children builds a connection to and an affection for nature that will persist for a lifetime. With a little guidance from the adults, it also begins to prepare them for assuming a stewardship role with the natural resources that are so vital to planetary and human health.

A child's sharp unbiased perceptions and the questions that flow so eagerly from a young, inquisitive mind creates fresh perspectives for the adult companion. Questions not answered can lead to further learning activities for both young and old about our plant and animal neighbors.

Very young children need only short forays to pick up leaves and acorns. As they become a little older, walks can turn into discovery expeditions. You can look for crayfish under stones in a stream. Turning over a log might reveal an incredible-looking beetle or a colorful salamander. Bigger creeks may have fish to admire. Skip stones across the water along the banks of Potomac River while walking along the towpath.

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Admire woodland flowers and mushrooms of many colors and shapes. Lie on your back and look up into the trees and try to spot birds and butterflies flitting about. Or lie on your bellies and examine the ground and the myriad life forms scurrying about.

Changing the time of day that you walk will alter what you will see and hear. Walk in the evenings when the moon is full and the world will seem more mysterious, magical even, and you might see and hear owls, foxes or other creatures of the night.

A bright early summer morning will be filled with fragrant scents and the sounds of birds. Winter is an easier season to actually see birds in the forest because leaves no longer hide them.

Older children might enjoy construction activities, which is great if you have your own woods. They can build forts or shelters where they play, picnic, read or just be with friends. It's really easy to make simple constructions with found objects. Once again this is an opportunity to instill the notice of stewardship.

A steward uses, but does not abuse, the forest.

Even without altering the environment, the forest is a great medium for fantasy adventure and odysseys of the mind for children. Boulders can be forts to be defended against all comers, or ships sailing in a sea. A frozen stream winding through interlaced boughs covered in snow becomes an ice castle for a princess or prince.

Peer into the opening where a spring emerges from a hillside and imagine what it would look like if you were 1 inch tall. Are there very small people who live there?

Taking children into the woods when they are small makes it more likely that they will have a desire to visit it again and again. With such a beginning, it will be easier to turn off the technology vying for attention and go for a family walk, or shoo the children into the woods to make up their own special activities and games.

Celeste Maiorana is a member of the Washington County Forest Conservancy District Board. For more information, go to http://www.wcfb.sailorsite.net .

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