“Mom, you’re not embracing the moment.” Aurora said to me.
This statement was in response to me saying, “You guys are so not fun.”
On a recent snow day, I asked Stephen and Aurora if they would go snowshoeing with me. Mother Nature had kindly given us over a foot of snow and we were able to snowshoe right outside our kitchen door.
I did not make this offer lightly. I knew I was signing up to help find and put on hats, gloves, boots, coats, and snow pants for two children. I would then fasten three pairs of snowshoes on three pairs of feet. My final task would be to choose an attainable destination and cheerlead and referee us to that destination.
“Why would anyone sign up for this?” “Why bother?” “Wouldn’t watching a movie together be easier?” These are questions I ask myself sometimes, and was starting to ask myself, when I said, “You guys are so not fun.”
Stephen, Aurora, and I were heading for either the old foundation or the vernal pool. Both sites are in the woods a short distance up a hill from our backyard. We were at the edge of our yard and starting to make progress in our trip up the hill when Stephen “fell” (sat down) in the snow. Aurora stopped to “help” him up, just as he was getting on his feet, she pushed him back down into the snow. He laughed, she laughed, and I said, “You guys are so not fun.”
At that moment, I had forgotten something important. My grown-up self wanted to go snowshoeing—travel from point A to point B, get some exercise, enjoy the snow, take some pictures, and listen to the quiet of the woods. But that was not what I had signed up for when I asked Stephen, 8 years old and Aurora, 11 years old to go snowshoeing with me. And Aurora reminded me of that when she said “Mom, you are not embracing the moment.” This excursion into the woods was about us spending time in nature, getting Stephen and Aurora more comfortable on snowshoes, and having fun together.
It was clear something needed to change, and it was my expectations. So, I looked up at the snow covered trees, took a deep breath, smiled to myself, and turned around. I met the Stephen and Aurora where they were, back down the trail, sitting in the snow. When I reached them, I sat down in the snow with them. We talked and listened to the birds and the wind. It was fun and peaceful.
After a while, I suggested we go the the vernal pool, which was closer than the old foundation. Then I mentioned that we could travel to the pool by way of the creek bed. Stephen and Aurora liked that idea, so we set off. Traveling up the creek bed added an interesting and challenging twist to our journey. The rocks and water were mostly covered with new-fallen snow. This created a soft, pillowy trough. Stephen climbed up onto a rock that had a foot of snow on it. From the top of the rock he looked for his next step. It was going to be a big one. He was a little apprehensive, but with a little encouragement he took the leap and landed in the soft, fluffy snow. Success!
A few minutes later we made it to the vernal pool. Stephen and Aurora immediately sat down in the snow at the edge and started throwing snowballs into the water and onto a layer of ice on part of the pool. We all enjoyed watching the snow spread across the ice and dissolve into the water.
Our excursion was going well. Stephen and Aurora were having fun and were engaged with the natural setting and its possibilities—walk on a log, lie in the snow, throw ice chunks in the pond, break ice with sticks, hit trees with snowballs, hit sibling or mother with snowballs.
Here’s what I have learned so far, about taking children out into nature:
1. Set the intention to be in nature with your children, and let the rest evolve. Keep them safe and meet them where they are: if they like to throw snow chunks in the water, throw snow chunks in the water; if they want to walk along a log, help them walk along a log; if they want to sit in the snow, sit in the snow.
2. Set your sights on an attainable destination, and don’t be afraid to shorten the end point if the children look tired, cold, or just plain done.
3. Dress for the weather. Warm, dry children are happy to be outside in most conditions.
4. The following are great tools (use them wisely and often): Sing songs (ex. The Ants Go Marching, etc.): Pose small challenges (“Do you think you can reach that big tree in 15 second?”); Issue words of encouragement (“You are strong, I know you can make it to the top of this hill!”); and Promise hot chocolate at the end!