Updated: Dec 12, 2019
The honeyeater trail lookout in the Whitsundays is one of the most challenging trails we have done with our girls for a while. As we prepared for the trip, I got skeptical about whether or not we should be taking our little six-year-old Laila. I was concerned about how physically challenging it would be for her. So I questioned if there are any benefits of taking young children on such big challenging hikes?
I was concerned about her body; will a vigorous hike have any implications for physical development? Were her knees ready for the steep downhill sections of the track? So I found myself researching the benefits and disadvantages of hiking for children on the internet. I found quite a few resources in relation to the subject and started to draw some conclusions. Some were obvious and general, such as hiking (by way of exercise) is good for child health in general. As long as she wasn't carrying a load and had appropriate shoes, her body should be just fine. More specifically, I also found evidence reinforcing my own experiences; hiking also improves mood, motor skills, and cognitive function.
But when reading further research and blogs on the topic, there was one benefit that definitely sparkles my attention, hiking helps them develop a relationship with nature.
Let's be honest, technology had taken over our daily lives. I am busy typing on a computer, you are sitting there reading this article on a tablet or phone. Cities have expanded beyond human imagination into their own homo sapien centric ecosystems. We are dangerously disconnected from the natural world to a point in which as a species we have grown careless about our planet's natural resources.
Not so long ago, people used to be part of nature and understood the natural cycles and their place as one part of a diverse ecosystem. The importance of certain resources within the environment to ancient cultures was often signified, for example, sacred streams or meeting places for some indigenous cultures were indicative of essential resources. Forests were often viewed as magical and inspired many adventures in folk tales. So, to regain our connection, we need to go back to nature.
Hiking offers a great opportunity to gain this relationship we need with nature. We need to submerge ourselves and our children in the forest so they can listen to the wind blowing gently through the canopy and the symphonies of the birds, smell the fresh air and natural aromas of the trees and soil. And I believe this connection needs to start at a very young age.
For me going on a hike makes me feel alive and aware of our planet. It brings me back with the essence of how Homo sapiens used to roam this planet in ancient times. As a parent, I feel obligated to bring my children back to nature and to our human essence. If we want to see a better planet (or to be honest, one that doesn't get worse and at least stay the same), we need to start reconnecting our children to nature. It starts by showing them the various structures of trees, the colours of the canopy, the carpet of leaves on the trail, the bugs living among them, the colourful fungi cycling nutrients back into the forest, and to let them play with the soil. More importantly, we need to tell them how it all connects, we need to educate them about the ecosystem,
how it works and how a healthy ecosystem is essential for our species long term survival.
Our children need to feel the forest as they hike with all their senses!
Our children need to feel the forest as they hike with all their senses! A hike to the mountains can bring to children a sense of environmental awareness, this, in turn, will translate into a relationship with nature and a wish to conserve our natural resources in the future. To put it simply, if they care about the trees that live in the forest, they will also care about them in the future when someone decides to take their precious forest, full of great memories, down. And if they become future leaders, their past experiences in the forest will help them make a decision for a more sustainable way of living.
So next time you go for a hike, don't only see the hike as a way of exercising but also as an opportunity to reconnect yourself and your kids with nature. And when you reach the top, show them a different perspective of the world.
Thanks for reading!
Edited by Sam Penglase
All photos are copyrighted P&F photography