Every year, you hear on the news about a child, teen, adult, or even family that got lost walking in the woods. If you don’t consider yourself an outdoorsy person, then you want to avoid getting lost; however, this shouldn’t diminish your desire to spend time outdoors with your kids. Start by looking for local conservation land or parks where you can get comfortable walking a mile or so with your kids. You don’t need to work a GPS or a compass, just follow a few guidelines.
Know Where You Are Going
Although this sounds simple, I’ve met a lot of people who enter a trail without looking at a map or only glancing at the map posted on a kiosk for a minute. Granted, I work as a teacher at a 2000-acre wildlife sanctuary that’s 20 miles south of Boston, so if you keep walking, chances are that you’ll encounter a road or a highway before too long.
To avoid getting lost, start with a map. Look online before you even go to a place and see if they have a map you can download. Check the mileage on the trails so you don’t overextend your children’s energy levels. Notice whether you can follow a loop or if you will return the same way. Check for trails that branch off the trail you plan to travel. If you aren’t skilled in reading maps, ask someone to show you a trail that’s about a mile-long loop.
If you can’t tell the type of terrain from the map, call beforehand or go into the visitor’s center or look for descriptions of the area online. You don’t want to end up climbing a steep, rocky hill in flip-flops and you don’t want to push a stroller along an unpaved, undulating nature trail that goes on for two miles.
Decide How Long the Walk Will Be
One thing to remember is that young children like to roam and meander; they like to stop and watch beetles and pick out their favorite pebble. If you’ve decided that your family will walk for an hour, after 25 minutes you need to turn around or check that you’ve made it a bit more than halfway around a loop.
One suggestion for planning the length of a walk is to multiply the age of the youngest child in your group by a half a mile. According to Peter Brown Hoffmeister in Let Them Be Eaten by Bears: A Fearless Guide to Taking Our Kids into the Great Outdoors, use this equation determine maximum mileage a day. So, if you have a five-year old and a two-year old with you, 2 x .5 = one mile.
Unless you are familiar with a trail, avoid walking it late in the day. If it is 90 minutes to sunset, then that isn’t the time to start a 60-minute walk. You and your kids may be physically tired from the day’s activities or you may get caught up in looking at your surroundings; you won’t notice it getting darker, but suddenly it will be dark, and if you are nervous then you risk getting lost.
Note that kids will start fast and be tired on the return trip. I’ve gone on many walks where the kids complained that I was walking too slowly but then I was the one prompting them to pick up the speed so we could get back in time for their parents to pick them up. And, sorry, but there is no magical or logical way to convince kids to conserve their energy at the beginning of a walk so that they will have energy at the end.
Pay Attention as You Walk
It is easy to become distracted while walking along a trail. You are busy calling back the child who keeps trying to run ahead while watching the other child squat motionless examining a slug. You don’t even notice where the trail branches.
Get your children to help you here; you can both work on your observations skills. Notice interesting shaped trees or the scent of flowers in bloom. Also, if you are coming back the same trail, turn around every so often so you can see what the trail will look like on the return journey.
If the trail isn’t clear in some spots, stop and look around so you can find it, as opposed to trying to find the trail as you continue to walk. Even if you’ve been on the trail before, it will look different after the leaves fall in the autumn or when a light coating of snow covers the ground.
It is easy to become comfortable walking in the woods, particularly in a familiar place. However, your children should still understand that a group should stay together (this applies even when they get older and are taking a walk with friends and not their parents). If you have kids who insist on running ahead, direct them a tree, bench, or rock (that you can see) to run to and then stop and wait or run back to you.
Avoid Getting Lost and Enjoy Your Nature Walk
One of the best ways to feel more confident walking in the woods and avoid getting lost is to walk the same trail several times over the course of different seasons. If the trail is a loop, try walking the trail one direction one day and then walk the trail in the opposite direction on another day. Young kids might not even realize that it’s the same trail because chances are they will see new things each day.
Follow these guidelines and avoid getting lost on a family nature walk.
Hoffmeister, Peter Brown. Let Them Be Eaten by Bears: A Fearless Guide to Taking Our Kids into the Great Outdoors. (2013). Perigee Trade.© Copyright 2013 Susan McCarthy, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Parenting