My feet hurt! Lessons from the Front Line.

My feet hurt. I’m hungry. Are we there yet? I’m thirsty. I’m dehydrated. I’m gonna die. I’m bored. This sucks. I’m hot.  So goes the litany of complaints experienced on a recent hike to Cherokee Marsh with a group of 7 first through fifth graders.

The weather was in the 70s, there were no bugs, and we saw some amazing things on this hike: spring peepers, tree swallow, Canada geese, Sandhill cranes, a millipede, red-winged blackbirds and a lot more. Plus we had cookies! There were fewer complaints when it was nearly below zero! While the kids were engaged when there was something cool to look at, the kids quickly turned to complaints once back on the trail.

What was going on? First, this was the longest hike we’ve been on so far.  To kids, this can seem like a very long way. Second, this was the first time that most of them had been on a hike of this type. There was no play equipment and few signs of civilization. Cherokee Marsh is a conservation area so amenities are kept to a minimum.When I told one of the kids that wetlands are important because they help replenish our ground water supply, he wanted to dump out the water he was drinking. There are so many things that I take for granted that these kids have had no exposure to. For them, this is all new.

Here are some things we did to help with the complaints and some things I will do in the future. It’s always good to have water, which we did. However, some kids didn’t have enough to eat for breakfast, or no breakfast at all. Trail snacks are critical. We did have plenty of food on the hike, but I think I would ask kids before the hike if they wanted something to eat.

Just 15 minutes into the hike, while hiking up a modest hill, one 9-year-old African-American boy, lost steam. Turns out, all he had for breakfast was a glass of orange juice. We stopped a lot and fed him to help keep him going. At an overlook, the whole group got cookies, which most really needed.

On the way back, there wasn’t as much to see on the trail so the complaints started again. I shared some stories about how I dealt with boredom while hiking: singing, making of stories, etc. I’m not sure this helped. I also pointed out things: like an airplane landing at the nearby airport, an old oak tree that was around when native people lived here.  What I will look for  are more examples of African-American people who like to hike and to help make connections between hiking and their own lives. Here’s one:

Barack Obama said, “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.”

True, hiking is about making steady progress, especially for a young kid.  But it’s also about enjoying the moment, the fresh air and the wonder of nature.For me, one of the most enjoyable parts of hiking is completing a difficult hike. The hardship is forgotten quickly, and then all that’s remembered is the scenery and the good parts.

Perhaps this is the real message for these kids. Even though that 9-year-old wanted to leave as soon as he got started, he kept going. He didn’t give up. This takes guts.

It will be interesting to find out what the kids say about the trip on Monday.

What lessons have your kids learned while getting outside?

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