We are currently struggling with the age of digital technology that has captured our kids’ attention perhaps a bit too much. Taking a hike helps teach kids to concentrate on only one thing. They are bombarded with distractions; everything is calling for your child’s attention. At this rate, the ability to concentrate will become something severely lacking in our society. We as parents can make a change. Time to power down the devices and head out to the woods.
Fall is a great season to take the kids for a hike. As an O.T., I often recommend hiking to the parents that have children with a sensory processing disorder. Parents express concerns to me that their kids don’t want to touch grass, dirt, sticks or trees. The children might have trouble dealing with loud sounds such as sirens, vacuum cleaner noise, blender sounds etc. They are not too sure of where their body is in space and will, as a result, bump into things and trip over obstacles in their path. Some of these issues may be addressed by going on a hike with them.
First, be sure to have all the right gear, dependent on the weather. Buy a new, fun water bottle to encourage drinking, and bring lots of healthful, energetic snacks; comfortable shoes; and a backpack for the child. The backpack adds firm tactile pressure and joint compression. I suggest climbing on little hills, thereby providing resistive muscle activity and a better position sense (proprioception). This would benefit the child who trips over obstacles or bumps into things. Uneven terrain provides movement challenges along the way—such as stepping over stones and tree roots, jumping off rocks and balancing on logs.
The woods also provide relative quiet; the loud sounds that the child hears at home are not there. The sounds of the leaves crunching under your child’s feet can be pointed out to him. He can make a pile of them with his hands or throw them up and watch them fall. He will feel empowered by being in control of the sounds and the touch sensations. The sound of the breeze rustling the leaves on the trees can also be brought to his attention. If there is water nearby, empower your child by encouraging him to pick up the rocks and toss them in the water—again experiencing the tactile sensation the rocks give him and hearing the splash they make as they enter the water.
So plan a family hike, take advantage of the beautiful autumn foliage, notice the changes in how you feel and the changes in your child after an experience in the woods. Look for better self-regulatory skills, better eye contact, improved balance and coordination and improved readiness to explore the world around him. Children want to have a safe, fun time with their parents and the woods are a perfect venue!
By Stacey Gardin