When I say I like to explore the woods with my daughter, I forget the image which immediately comes to mind for some. Both of us lacing up our hiking boots, backpacking our way on the trek of all treks. Weekly.

Confession - I’m not always hiking. Not every time I enter the woods. Do I like hiking? Yes! Do I do it? Occasionally. Do I ever hike with my daughter? Yes, definitely, but also occasionally.

Not all trips into the woods are made the same for us. And while there are times when we set out with a hike in mind, most times we don’t actually enter the woods for this reason. Instead, we go there to wander, to explore, to sit on a path in one spot for what can feel like hours on end because that is the exact spot where my daughter found something captivating.

Lately, there’s a lot of talk about reconnecting ourselves and our children with nature. Which is exciting, although can be a little confusing about how to put into practice if it’s new to your rhythm. But there are just as many ways to explore nature as there are places to do it.

So, mamas and papas, families, teachers, whomever, when you read these articles inspiring you to head outdoors, know on the spectrum of how your family can connect with nature, there are a million degrees between couch potato and gung-ho adventurer.

Outdoor play, like so much in life, differs based on the family doing it. What do you want your experience to be? What do your kids hope their experience will be? The answer to those questions is a great place to start figuring out how your time in the woods may be spent.

Child-Led Exploration

And for those of you just starting out, one of our favorite approaches to exploring the woods might be of interest to you. It isn’t actually a hike, nor is it structured, nor is it even led by adults. Child-led exploration, as it sounds, follows the lead of children as they explore the woods. Really. It’s a hit-the-trail-and-watch-what-they-do kind of approach.

At times, it means kids wander where they are drawn, they stop when they feel compelled, they step off the path when there is something to explore, they jump in puddles, they get muddy, they climb, they lay down, they imagine, they create, they test their skills, they are active, they are slow, they cling to your side, they get hungry, they recharge and then they do it all over again.

In some ways, this approach is really easy. You get to watch your kids take in the world at their own pace and with curiosity as their guide. You'll be amazed at how little goes into all of the great rewards which come back at you.  And while it can be challenging in other ways - especially if it's different than what your family is used to or if you squirm at dirt, risk or unstructured play - focus in on those rewards. Your children's eyes full of wonder. The ways they challenge themselves. The beaming pride they feel when they accomplish their own goals - no matter how big or small. The connection they form with others and the natural world. Child-led exploration is full of moments where kids feel like they can conquer and discover anything. Actually, it's much like how I feel at the end of the hike, just without the hiking. And these are some of the many reasons why you probably came to the woods in the first place. Enjoy as you watch them unfold, literally right before your eyes.

No matter how you explore the woods - as a hiker, as a child-led explorer, as anything else - there is so much to get out of the experience. Just don't feel like it's out of reach for you if you aren't the most outdoorsy of parents. Step into the woods and give it a shot. Chances are you'll find the right path before you know it, and it'll be as rewarding as it's cracked up to be.

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