“Slow down, you move too fast,
You’ve got to make the morning last…”
Children are the best teachers we can aspire to have in our lives. They teach us patience by trying ours. They teach us generosity by needing so much from us. They teach us how to live in the moment, every moment we are with them, since being anywhere but the present moment is impossible with a small child. They teach us how to play given that they are such experts at it and most us forgot long ago the importance of play for ourselves. And they teach us to slow down.
Life seems to keep speeding up more and more. Faster modes of travel, faster modes of communication, faster fast food, faster and faster we run till we seem to be running our spirits into the ground. What is the antidote to all this fast -paced, noise-polluted, gotta-get-ahead syndrome that so many of us are living?
Go for a hike with your favorite small person. Just like in that iconic Simon and Garfunkle song from which I borrow the title, slow down and move deliberately. Let your child take the lead, stop when they stop, look under a log for some creepy crawlies, sit as often as you can and watch your child create an imaginary world around him/her. And if you really want to see imagination in action, take several small kids to the woods and watch what they do together. They create magic. Let their delight transport you to a younger version of yourself. Get dirty, play in the leaves, smell the fall air, delight in the joy that children so naturally are and let their present moment being inspire you.
“You’ve got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones.
Looking for fun and feeling groovy.”
59th Street Bridge Song–https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvlW4bEjB5A
Today is warm and mild. The leaves on the sweet gum trees at Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve are golden, red and orange. Today we hiked up Blue Oak Trail on our adventure. The kids enjoyed meeting dogs as we hiked up the trail. Most of the dog owners are happy to share the trail with a gaggle of kids. The couple today let us pet their trained but “career-changed” seeing eye dog! Who knew seeing eye dogs could change careers?
On the way up the hill ( the hike is all uphill going out and all downhill on the return leg), we encountered a dead mole. Yup, a dead mole. It was fuzzy and small and dark gray and dead. “Why is it dead, teacher?” they ask. “Well, it could have been old and then died. All things die eventually. Or maybe it got sick from a mole disease. Or maybe it didn’t find enough to eat.” This is how it goes on some hikes. Lots of questions, lots of curiosity. And that is how it works best.
Further up the trail, we saw a dead tree. Yup, a dead tree. Uh-huh, trees die eventually as well. Roaming around outside in natural settings gives children the time and opportunity to observe life in all its forms sprouting and growing, aging and dying. We talk about the circle of life so the kids, as well as the grown ups, can be reminded of how natural it is to be born and to die and how important it is to be alive while we are here.
“Hey kids, isn’t it great to be out here running around and playing?” “Yes, yes, yes!!” they all sing back.
May we all enjoy the spring, summer, fall and winter of life.
Hmmm………that is a good question. Well, they need food, water and air. Yes. We aren’t talking that basic here. OK. Then they need love. Now we are getting somewhere. And they need to love and run and jump and touch and smell and taste and drink life in. Yeah, now we are cookin’!! They need time outside, in the dirt, in the water, touching worms, smelling the mugwort, tasting mustard flowers, seeing the pelicans and wearing their hoodies backwards so they can pretend they too are pelicans. They need to feel the wind on their faces. They need to see the sun glisten in the water and smell the bay smell and collect little stones and make birthday cakes in the sand. They need time to make paint with rocks and paint their faces. They need to walk in the creek and feel what it is like to have their shoes, socks and pants get wet. The magic that happens when they have the chance to experience this kind of childhood living is wonderful to see.
This is what Leaping Lizards is about. And it should be what childhood in general is about. Kids don’t need more screen time or more academics shoved down their throats. They need time outside, plain and simple. Summer is approaching. Warm weather, longer days, vacations. Take an evening walk with your kids, go to the beach, find your local nature preserve and go. Just go…. outside. And the amazing thing is that these are experiences we all need no matter what our age.
Wishing you all a lovely Mother’s Day….. outside!
How can you go outside when it is raining?! Easy. You get your rain coat, boots and a rain hat and go. Kids love a walk in the rain for all the water play that it offers. And we know all kids love water! Today, I took my group to Foothills Park and we walked up into Wild Horse Valley to the end of the road. The creek was surging with large amounts of the magical stuff, the giver of life, water. The kids made boats out of leaves and logs, threw stones down the culvert to listen to the “music” that the rolling of the stone made as it made its way to the other end of the culvert, we looked for bones that had been washed down by the water, Erika and Juna and Llew made mud pies and mud cakes. Everyone found the sensual pleasures of wetness and textures and none of us minded the cold. So long as one keeps moving, and kids are perpetual motion, one stays warm. Jumping across the rivulets of water was a good game too. Much fun awaits us all if we just dare to go outside and feel our way along in the wet weather. Other good places to go on a rainy day are Huddart Park or Wunderlich County Park.
As always, think outside the box for your entertainment, remember to connect with nature and leap on.
I didn’t formally introduce myself on the first blog post. I am the founder, director and lead teacher at Leaping Lizards Nature Awareness Preschool. I’ve been teaching in this field for nearly 23 years. My hope for this blog is to inspire parents, grandparents and any other person who shares time with young children to go take a hike and enjoy connecting with nature. The only thing there is to know is where to go. The rest is easy! Points to remember while hiking with young children:
1) Hike at their pace. Stop often. Turn logs over to see who lives underneath but be sure to put the log back just as you found it. If you don’t feel comfortable catching and holding what might be living there, just observe.
2) Take a snack including water and be prepared for the weather by dressing yourself and your little one(s) in layered clothing. Don’t forget your wide-brimmed sun hat (one per person) and sunscreen.
3) Notice, notice, notice. It doesn’t matter so much if you know the names of trees or crittters or anything really. It is feeling nature that counts. Also, kids will enjoy the experience more if, along the way, you can get silly and play with them while on your outing and not make it about covering a long distance or “learning” something. They will be learning to enjoy, be curious aand care about the natural world just by being out there with you.
4) Invite another family to go with you if you like. Sometimes when kids have other non-related kids to adventure with it can make it more appealing. Try not to let yourself get too absorbed by your own adult chit chat though. Make this time about escaping from cell phones, to-do lists, traffic, lines at stores, laundry, bad news, etc. and about connecting with your kids, yourself and Mother Nature. Notice the quiet, the smells, the textures , the harmony of where you are. And of course, have fun!
Today we hiked from Vista Hill at Foothills Park down Chamise Trail to Boronda Lake. This is a great hike on a sunny, cool day. The .7 mile hike is downhill to the lake but then it is, obviously, uphill back to your vehicle. The one thing to be aware of though is that Foothills Park is open only to Palo Alto residents. Sorry.
Along the way, be sure you watch for the poison oak off to the sides along the trail. After you make the turn to go toward the lake, you don’t have to worry much about it though. Today we saw checkerspot butterfly caterpillars on the sticky monkey flower plants in the draw below the bridge along this trail. The kids were thrilled to see the fuzzy little gray guys munching down the leaves.
Once we were at the lake we saw a handsome cormorant sunning itself on the boat dock. A ruddy duck sat next to it, curiously. Our noises scared them both away. What a surprise! Clearly hiking with 8 three and four year olds is not a quiet proposition. I collected sticks to be used as “fishing poles” and immediately the kids wanted to begin to “fish.” There is usually enough floating plant material in the water next to the dock for the kids to scoop up. One of my little guys called out ” Look, I caught an eel!” after catching a long piece of tule leaf. The kids decided that they were going to “bake” the fish. I have the kids lie down on their bellies when fishing which makes it less likely for them to launch themselves or each other into the water! It was a lovely day for us all.
Happy hiking and leap on!