We at Bay Area Families Outside are huge proponents of exploring everywhere. There are a multitude of trails and outdoor areas around the Bay Area– it’s a veritable goldmine of local adventures. However, this post is encouraging you to do almost the opposite– find your go-to, local, don’t-have-to-google-directions trail. We live near Wildcat Canyon, and our local trail is less than a mile from our house. We could hike miles and miles from the trail head, or we could just wander up to the blackberry plants, pick some berries and head home again. I don’t know how many times the kids have been on this trail. Sometimes I pick up the youngest from daycare and we go out for 15-20 minutes before coming home. It’s the most no-fuss it could possibly be.
Why do we think this is important? First, it teaches everyone (grownups & kids) that the outdoors does not have to be Big Deal Outdoors. Sure, epic hikes and long treks are great, and I’m as thrilled by the idea of sitting on top of a mountain as the next person. But watching a sunset together is great, too. Sunsets happen every day, and they’re still pretty miraculous.
It teaches kids about seasons (even in the mild Bay Area) without you telling them about seasons. Understanding how the seasons change a landscape is hard to understand when you visit places once and then never return. Discussions about why there aren’t any blackberries, or how the hills suddenly look green lead to kid-directed inquiry about why these things happen. My mom used to just casually name plants as we went by them– she wasn’t asking me to memorize them, she just liked naming what she saw. I thought I wasn’t paying much attention until I realized a few years ago that I have a very solid amateur’s knowledge of many plants around us.
When you get to someplace you don’t know, usually the adults are in charge of figuring out where to hike. When we go out in Wildcat for a short jaunt, the three year old gets to lead (see picture above). I am far less attached to covering any kind of ground because I already know these trails like the back of my hand. Leading helps her think through the outcomes of her choices, and contributes to developing a sense of how the trails connect. She is developing a map in her head, little by little. The more a person knows a place, the more it feels like “our” place. Not in a “get out it’s all mine” way, but comfortable and connected. These trails are hers in a way that weekend adventures are not.
It reminds us all that the familiar is always full of new, if you look closely enough. Sticks change, plants change, new bugs appear. Bats come out in the dusk. One night, we were on a short meander before dinner and looked up to see a great-horned owl sitting in the tree in front of us. It was magical.
Finally, I think for myself, it’s a helpful reminder to pay attention to the world and the child(ren) in front of me. While it might seem totally normal to check email at home and then get distracted with something silly on FB, it seems totally out of place to pull my phone out to see what everyone is doing online when I’m standing on a trail. I’m more aware of the opportunity to connect with my child, and I can’t see that this is ever a bad thing. For me, many a slightly-crazed work day has been salvaged and greatly improved upon through just 20 minutes of outside time with my kiddo. The header image was taken after a day that involved 3 hours of painful commute time on Bay Area freeways. I had 20 minutes or so between day care pickup and sunset. I threw the kid and dog into the car and went 1/4 a mile up the trail to watch the sunset. I don’t know if it transformed the world for my (then) 8 month old, but it transformed the day for me. I was hanging out with a happy baby, a happy dog and a beautiful view. Life looked much better. Getting outside is not just for your kids– it’s for you, too.
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