A Simple Way to Spark a Love of Nature in Your Kids
The Night Walks
Recently, my six-year-old granddaughter Sequoia and I have begun a ritual of taking evening strolls together which we call our ‘night walks.’ After dinner and before it gets too dark, we grab our coats and a flashlight and head out for a half-hour stroll through the neighborhood. It’s the perfect time for a walk – there are few cars on the road, the air is cooler and the nocturnal animals are just starting to stir.
The idea for a night walk came to me one evening when she was having a lot of difficulty settling down – I proposed we go for a stroll to take her mind off things. I couched the idea as an exploration of our senses: we would walk slowly and quietly, watching for wildlife, listening for birds and insects, smelling the evening air for blossoms (it was spring). It would be an adventure, I said, and she jumped at the opportunity.
Our first night walk involved strolling to the end of the road where we knew there was a pond to check for frogs. Along the way, we listened carefully to all the evening noises. She was a little nervous about being out at dusk but it didn’t take long for her curiosity to take over. At one point she was startled by an unfamiliar noise but when we figured out what it was – a skunk rooting in the neighbor’s garden – the fear went away.
As spring became summer, we saw deer sometimes, and bats, and on warm nights, we could hear all the different birds settling in for the night. Over time, it has become a game to figure out what is making that noise? Are those crickets or frogs? Off in the distance, a dog barks but whose dog is it? By slowing down and asking these questions, she is becoming more attuned to her environment, overcoming fear through knowledge and experience.
Recently, we watched a full moon rise up from behind a nearby mountain and it lead to a discussion on our solar system and culminated in me setting up my telescope so she could see the craters on the moon “up close.”
Invariably, we find something interesting – a train of ants, frogs in a pond, an owl calling – that absorbs her curiosity fully and it is in those moments, that she appears to reset.
All the stresses she may have felt, all the pushback about going to bed or whatever – dissolves and what is left is a quiet, aware and happy child. It is the best moment.
Sequoia asks for night walks often and I try to make it happen at least once every time she visits. In the quiet of the evening, we talk about nature mostly but sometimes the talk isn’t about nature at all – sometimes it’s just about checking in to see how she is doing – how is life with her mom? What’s going on in school? What is she going to wear for Halloween?
What I love most about our night walks is the time we get together without distraction and when we finally get back home, she is peaceful, happy, not demanding our attention and ready for bed.
Fortunately, we live in a rural area which provides us with a natural backdrop for our explorations but a walk around the block can be just as rewarding if you approach it right.
Here are some ways to make your night walk a rewarding experience:
1) Go at their pace – It’s not about going far or fast. It’s all about filling the experience with as much sensory feedback as possible.
2) Don’t put a clock on it – Kids hear enough of “five more minutes and then it’s time for bed.” Instead, try to plan your walk based on your time parameters. If you‘ve only got 30 minutes, keep the distance short so you end up back home when you need to. Or start earlier to give you more time.
3) Be present – Listen to the world around you and to your child. They will want to talk and will relish your undivided attention.
4) Leave your phone at home – The full impact of a night walk is only going to work if your child has your full attention.
5) Go one-on-one – If you have more than one child or grandchild, take turns with each of them individually. If your spouse or partner wants to be involved, again take turns.
6) Be safe out there – Dusk is the time when you can see a lot of wildlife activity. Stick to well-used paths or roads and avoid places where you know larger animals habituate (we have mountain lions and bears in our area). Also, carry a flashlight or two but use them minimally, if possible.