Welcome to Wild Monthly!
First, let me take a few lines to thank those of you who have sent me such nice notes about this newsletter. As a bit of background, Wild Monthly began as a New Year’s resolution. I promised to write a brief article every month on some nature-study topic, and, though I missed one month, I am trying to keep that resolution! So, thanks for the support!
Welcome all new subscribers!
As the mailing list has grown, I fear I may need to put all the subscriptions into a Yahoo Group. If this is unacceptable to anyone, please let me know, and I’ll keep a separate list. The problem is that many of you have e-mail “CC” limits...if I send a copy of this e-mail in bulk, I get about half of them back, and must do the rest by hand (very time consuming!). A Yahoo Group would streamline the mailing.
Let’s all pause to say a quick prayer for those lives lost and changed by hurricane Katrina. Amen.
How to help:
Contribute Now Online (link to Catholic Charities)
Mail Checks To:
Catholic Charities USA
2005 Hurricane Relief Fund
PO Box 25168
Alexandria, VA 22313-9788
And now, to our feature presentation...
Babes in the Woods
I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s time to get out. Turn off the TV, pull on your hiking boots, and head outside. The weather is getting cooler (except in anti-podean climes), the birds will be migrating soon, and the flurry of autumnal activity can provide us with hours of observation, if only we get out. I have heard all the excuses, but there is one common excuse that folks use to stay inside: "My children are too young to camp or hike!"
Camping/Hiking with Infants
It seems like an insurmountable proposition to hike or camp, or sometimes even picnic, with an infant, but it’s really the easiest age, once one is properly equipped. I have camped with babies as young as 8 weeks. If you are in a sunny location, and your baby is too young for sunscreen, look into light coverings for head and arms, or set up a shady place in your yard. If you are hiking with an older baby, use a back carrier if you can, but use front carriers until the baby can support his head well. When you camp, the baby does not need a separate sleeping bag—just snuggle in! I have used “Moses baskets” as makeshift cradles for naptime (I looked at the prices for these and cringed, remembering the $15 I spent 13 years ago...shop around!). The good things about babies? They are very portable; they don’t get lost; if you are nursing, you don’t need any special food for them. Many babies sleep very well out of doors (in a tent), and the earlier you start, the easier it is to camp with them in the toddler stage, which is probably the most challenging time of all.
Trekking with Toddlers
Toddlers, unlike babies, are very active, and easy to lose, not just in a campground or on a trail, but anywhere. This is often the time when many parents break down and buy harnesses and tethers for their children, or keep them confined to a stroller. Luckily, many parks and trails are now “accessible,” which is a boon not just for the handicapped, but for moms with strollers. Many well-groomed trails have wide paths, free from poison ivy, briars, and other problem plants.
The biggest issue when camping with toddlers, and the thing on the minds of most parents, is the campfire. Toddlers and fire can be a disaster, so parents must be vigilant. Make an outer ring around the fire and make a rule that no one goes inside, except an adult. Use long sticks for roasting marshmallows, or cooking hot dogs. Make singing songs around the campfire the main activity.
Find more ideas for helping little ones enjoy the outdoors with you:
http://gorp.away.com/gorp/eclectic/family/expert/fam_out.htm, and for the whole inspiration thing in a book, try Adventuring with Children.
Let the Children Lead
As children get older, outdoor activities get easier. Just beyond the toddler stage, children often want to be the leader of the hike. Let each child take a turn leading. Let each be a leader in other ways, too, like being the "boss" in charge of setting up the tent, or keeping the fire going, or even following the trail blazes. If you are in a big park, read descriptions of several hikes, and let the children decide which ones they think are the best. Let one child be the "lookout" when you are expecting company. Give kids a list of things to find on the trail: A blue flower; a water fall; an orange rock; footprints. Bring snacks!
MacBeth's favorite trail mix:
Milk chocolate chips
Jelly Belly beans
Make it Meaningful
Children who are still older may enjoy the real challenges of survival training. Teach them to make fires, make a solar still, collect wild edibles (see Steve Brill's excellent book), or track potential prey. If a member of the family hunts or fishes, children will enjoy learning these skills form a master. Teach children how to clean and cook a fish, too. Rough camp in a wild place. Camp in winter. Hike part of the Appalachian Trial, Santa Fe Trail, the Oregon Trail, or even a local Greenbelt Trail. Learn orienteering. Get topographical maps from the US Geological Survey, and find your own way with a compass. If you are inclined, try mountain hiking, or even mountain climbing.
Young musicians can bring along instruments (we found cello and piano to be difficult to carry into the woods, but violins, penny whistles, recorders, guitars and more, are easy). Authentic campfire, cowboy or folk music is a lesson--and a pleasure--in itself. If no one plays, you can all still sing along. If you need inspiration, get a CD or tape of Authentic American folk music (or European, or Australian, etc.) and sing along. Our kids have a repertoire of Bulgarian, Romanian and Hungarian folks music, which adds a bit of eastern European flair to our campouts. Irish music is also popular with our crew.
Try making your hike into a pilgrimage--hike to a shrine. Recently, we got an e-mail advertising a pilgrimage to a shrine in PA. The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal hiked for 4 days, with music and prayer, and a big family following. Perhaps your local youth group could have a similar hiking retreat.
From my childhood, the camping experiences that I remember most clearly are a bit exotic. We camped with bears and bats, without toilets, and within hiking distance to some spectacular views. In the US, you don't have to go too far to find the exotic! Include a scenic overlook, a geological oddity, a birding paradise, or a very wild place in your plans, and the family will never forget the trip. Here are a few ideas...I hope one is not too far from you:
"Diamond Mining" (Herkimer diamonds--beautiful Quartz crystals)
Diamond Mining (the real thing)
Live in a Lighthouse
Caves (Missouri links...Google your own sate for more)
Climb the Cascades
Climb the Rockies
Climb Diamondhead (Brochure pdf)
Try a Google search to find some great hiking/outdoor adventures in your area.
After the fire has died down, the instruments are away, and we are all settled in our tent, it's story time. While the younger ones are usually asleep already, the older kids may be waiting for a good story. There are many camping favorites to chose from in our library, with selections for the very young, as well as longer novels for older campers.
The younger children can prepare for a camping trip with some of our favorites, and then bring them along. Try Henry and Mudge and the Starry Night for a simple, true-to-life camping story. Allen Say's The Lost Lake is a story about a boy camping with his dad. Andrew Kiss illustrates Margriet Ruurs' When We go Camping, one of the most beautiful picture books about camping that's out there. If you are camping in the mountains, be sure to check out A Mountain Alphabet by the same author and illustrator. Toasting Marshmallows, a book of camping poems by Kristine O'Connell George, will have the children reciting poems as they set up camp, cook, and hike. And each of these books will likely charm older readers, too.
Freddy Goes Camping should top the list of the next group of kids. Silly and serious, this intrepid pig gives up his usual detective garb for undercover work--as a camper! The Freddy the Pig series is such fun, you'll want to read them all. Australian friends recently introduced a series of books from their neck of the woods--the Bush Boys books, which have a uniquely down-under quality. These books take us from our tents in America to bush camps on another continent. The bad thing is that they are only available in Australia (why is that?). The good news is that they can be found using the internet, and bought directly from the publisher (click on title for the link). Of course, no discussion of books for campers would be complete without mention of Swallows and Amazons! The best of the series for campers include Swallowdale, Pigeon Post and Secret Water. Try My side of the Mountain for those interested in survival.
Need more ideas? Field guides? Great hiking ideas that are suitable for young children? Visit MacBeth's Opinion and browse for books, and suggestions to make your outing the best it can be.
For mom and dad:
For the younger kids:
For the older kids, and family read-alouds:
How-to books just for kids:
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