Kids in the Woods

Posted: January 7, 2014

Suggestions from a Pennsylvania Tree Farmer on how to get kids, grandkids, and other young people enthusiastic about the woods.

By Susan Benedict, PA Tree Farm Committee Chair

On a recent woods walk, my granddaughter and her two friends were like little raccoons climbing stumps, walking logs, and turning over stones. It was a joyful sensory experience for them and their rapid fire questions were a challenge to keep up with.
There is never a shortage of work on these labors of love we call Tree Farms. It is easy to send our kids to an outdoor class, camp, or field day while we go fight invasives, meet with foresters, and fill out the never ending paperwork to enroll in cost-share programs to help us salvage what we have and to better manage for the future.

I fully support all types of environmental learning and formal classes have their place, but they cannot replace the kind of one-on-one mentored learning parents, grandparents, and other adults can provide. The next generation is the most precious Tree Farm resource we have. All the legacy planning we do will be for naught if we have no one interested enough to leave the land to.

How do we teach kids about the forest? First you have to get them there. My teenage Xbox-addict has to be forced to the woods. I offer the choice to come or stay home without the Xbox. Once we get there, he has a good time and wonders why he doesn't do it more often. Granddaughter Riley at three is not yet spoiled by electronics and is always eager to go with Grammy for a walk.

The second tip I learned from my Dad. You can never have enough sugar on a hike. Dad would always issue our "emergency" candy bar before we left the truck. This might not be the best in terms of nutrition, but a tired kid will go an amazing distance on a five minute rest and a Snicker's bar!

Games can be a good way to teach. My brothers and I learned navigation because Dad would pretend to be lost and we would have to work to find the truck. Over time, we learned to keep track of where we went and how to get back. We learned to "see" in the woods by playing an informal type of “I Spy.”

My final tip is to dress kids in the proper size clothes and foot gear appropriate for the weather. Try walking the equivalent of three times as far as you normally do in wet boots two sizes too big or a size too small and see how much fun it is for you! Proper fitting, weather appropriate clothes make any outing more fun. And don't fuss if clothes get muddy or wet - have enough on hand for changes during the day.

In summary dress kids properly for the outdoors, get them on a sugar high, and turn them loose to explore the wonders forests have to show them. You will be investing in your most precious Tree Farm resource, the next generation. These adventures will build a legacy of memories that will be passed down for generations.