By Mike Nolan
One thing I’ve learned after raising three children: you have to give them your time. And giving them your time is a lot easier, and much more enjoyable, if it’s spent doing activities that you both enjoy. Now that my kids have grown and I am a grandfather of a four year old, it’s my turn to go back and relearn some of those parenting techniques, acquired through trial and error, which served me so well a generation ago.
I love hiking. So do my adult children. We still go hiking together because it’s a passion that we share, and it was introduced to them at an early age. I hope to have that same interest with my granddaughter, Gracie, so I am back at square one, starting early with her, to foster a love of the outdoors.
Since I have to view the hiking experience through the lens of a preschooler, I am setting aside any thought about distances covered or time spent on the trail. At this beginning stage, there is just one goal: to experience hiking with grandpa as a fun activity. Our first hike was a short loop just off of the park’s visitor’s center. Most of it was flat, and on the parts that weren’t, Gracie ran on the downhill’s and I carried her on the uphill’s. Since I discarded the time factor, it did not matter that Gracie took a good fifteen minutes examining a banana slug on the trail (she even named it). Gracie and I also took lengthy breaks to touch different types of moss, some lichen, and pieces of decaying wood. We talked about everything we saw (mushrooms, fallen pine cones, some deer tracks) and we took our time throwing stones in a little creek. All along the way, I supplemented the experience with little treats: gummy worms and tic-tacs, both of which Gracie loves.
The highlight of our hike was a delicious lunch I had packed (all of Gracie’s favorite foods) which we enjoyed on a blanket spread out at the half way point.
The entire trip was less than a mile, but that didn’t matter. As someone who has run marathons and climbed mountains, I had to remind myself that the big take-away for Gracie had to be that hiking is fun (HIKING IS FUN!) so I am trying to create a super-enjoyable experience on her level which just happens to tie in with a walk along a forested trail.
Seeds are being planted here, and I can tell I’m getting somewhere because the last time Gracie came to visit, she asked if we could go on a hike again. I’m hoping that she’ll continue to want to do more hikes with me and, as time goes on, longer hikes and more challenging hikes. By playing my cards right, we could end up with some common ground which we might share with one another for years and years to come.
For now, I’ll keep in mind that:
1. Hiking is fun!
2. Short hikes to start with.
3. Let kids determine our pace (it’s the journey, not the destination).
4. Be prepared with treats: gummy worms and tic-tacs.
5. Pack a great lunch, for everyone to enjoy.
This blog was originally shared in 2015. Author update: Here we are, five years later: Gracie is nine and I am pleased to report that she and I are still (happily) hiking. I’ve continued to follow my five rules, and last week we worked up to my favorite hike, the eleven-mile round trip to the lighthouse on the Dungeness Spit. I was so proud of her!
About the author: Mike Nolan is a retired high school guidance counselor, who spent 30 years working in the Washington Public Schools. He raised three kids in the area, and his grandchildren are members at KidsQuest Children’s Museum. As an avid hiker, some of his recent trails have included summiting Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adam, Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak, and completing the coast to coast walk across England. His writing has been published in several online magazines.