Parents and kids find magic in the great outdoors

Two young girls climb on top of a fallen tree laying among a forest of trees with no leaves

“Into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” This famous quote by John Muir jogs through my mind as I start down one of the many woodland paths near my house. If there is time in my day for an adventure, the forest is where you will find me. Some days I have hours, and other days merely minutes. But Mother Nature never disappoints, regardless of the amount of time I have to spare. She is always beckoning of adventures to be had among her bowers, you just need to listen.

Usually my girls clamor along with me on these woodland adventures, stomping in puddles and singing songs. It has become the most cherished part of my day. My six year old Molly has led me on more fairy adventures than I can count. We skip along the trails and she tells me of the dragon trees and fairy queens. She shows me the underground tunnels they live in during the winter months. She guides me to the nooks and crannies hidden in the forest and spins tales of their purpose. Minutes become hours as we travel along, fascinated by the enchantment all around us. I let go of the now and float along on her cloud of imagination. She is my guide to a world that feels faintly familiar.

My 13 year old daughter Emma has started many hikes with reluctance. Feeling the pull of more mature things than spinning tales in the woods with her mother and young sister, it only takes about five minutes and she’s hooked as well. Climbing trees and jumping streams, making leaf wishes and marching through the mud has its own magic power. The three of us dash about collecting fallen branches for magic wands. We pet the moss and comment on its beauty. We create mandalas from rocks, berries and anything found on the forest floor. We create art, stories and love. We forge our own world within a world.

My family and I are blessed to live in a rural area in West Michigan, with a large backyard and woods beyond. However, most of our adventures take place in the wooded trails of a nearby park just a short distance from our home. We have an old wicker basket that has become a staple for our “adventuring gear” and gets filled with whatever we decide to take that day—a magnifying glass for looking at small things, a plastic grocery bag for trash pick-up, a small notebook with a marker for documentation, even a few carrots to leave as a gift. If we have a lot of free time, we’ll even toss some snacks in the basket (impromptu picnics are the best). I have found a peace unlike that I have ever known on our daily walks. Nature truly is our sanctuary.

In times of uncertainty, I have continued to walk and take my kids into the woods. We focus on the moment we are in and everything else seems to melt away. I urge you to look for places in your local area that may have trails or wooded areas. I have found plenty of natural areas in my community, some with large plots of land just waiting to be explored. By simply Googling local parks, nature centers, nature preserves, even campgrounds, I have found many outdoor places that I never even knew existed. Even the concept of social distancing seems easier in the woods. My daughters and I often don’t see others while on our adventures. But when we do, we are able to accommodate one another in the expansive space that nature holds.

Go for a walk and ask your children to tell you a story, and help them start one if they struggle. Sing a song or play one on your phone to get it going. Bring a bag or basket with some “adventure tools” and snacks. Let your little ones pack it before you leave the house and watch them get excited as they think about the adventure that lies ahead. Bring crayons and wax paper to do rubbings of leaves. Make up small scavenger hunts looking for a green leaf or a gray rock. Nothing needs to be complicated, simple things with large imagination breed magic.

There are multiple sources online with different ideas for nature based activities. But I personally feel that nothing beats letting your children lead with their ideas. Let them take the reins of imagination and follow their lead. Sticks and leaves become boats, and tree trunks make a perfect castle. These are things I never would have thought of myself, and watching kids conjure them is like watching flowers bloom.

For those who live in cities or urban areas, try bringing a little bit of nature inside. Not everyone has access to long trails and open spaces. Take a basket, go outside and collect leaves, rocks, acorns, small sticks, anything that catches your childrens’ eyes. Go home and make things out of the treasures you have collected. Tell stories about them. Are these rocks from Mars? Could these be the magical leaves that gnomes sew their clothes out of? Turn a plain stick into a wand with paint and ribbon. Hide acorns around the house and ask your little squirrels to find them.

Look for opportunities to teach them valuable lessons found throughout nature. Show them how trees will lean on each other and hold each other up. Root down, hold fast and lean into those you love. Just like people, trees come in all shapes, sizes and colors. No two are the same, but all are beautiful and loved. These types of natural lessons are hidden everywhere.

Find a grassy spot to lay a blanket and bring a copy of your favorite book. We love reading Peter Pan, and I love watching my daughters’ eyes light up when I shout “walk the plank!” Bring homemade cookies and have a surprise treat at one of your favorite spots where the moss is soft and the birds are singing. Lay on your back and look at the sky. Ask them what they see. Then draw pictures of your visions and talk about what they might mean. These moments are so pure and special, I will cherish them forever.

When the world around us feels unsteady, it is important to find joy in every moment we can. I urge you to safely step out into nature with your loved ones. Because in nature, our only limitation is that of our own imagination.