Trail skills for girls.
October 30, 2008 12:02 PM   Subscribe

What skills can I teach my daughters, aged 9 and 7, while hiking? Also, where should we take our big, culminating hike in the spring (in or around Phoenix)?

Beginning Saturday, November 1, I will be taking my three daughters (ages 9,7 and 3) hiking every Saturday morning in our wonderful Phoenix Mountain Preserve. We will continue our hikes through the winter, probably until March or April when summer re-commences. Last winter we worked in identifying the flora along the trail. This winter I would like to teach the older girls more about map-reading and navigating with a compass. How else could I augment their outdoor education? Any resources for teaching these skills to youngsters would be appreciated, too.

Additionally, I'd like to have our hikes culminate in a big hike, or perhaps an overnight backpacking trip for the older two girls. Any suggestions on Phoenix trails or trails within 150 miles of the metro area for such a hike?
posted by Barry B. Palindromer to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It isn't something you can do while actually hiking, but bring some rope. Knots and pioneering are useful skills and there's no better place to teach them.

What about some amateur astronomy? Get far enough from Phoenix and you shouldn't have any problem with light pollution. You may have to bone up a little yourself, but star charts are light and relatively easy to read once you get the hang of it.

In terms of navigating, don't just teach them orienteering with a compass. Also teach them how to navigate using the sun. And not just the generally "Well the sun is over there, so I need to go that way," but actually pinpointing due north using shadows at noon. This may involve sitting in one place for half an hour or so, as you'll want to plant a small stick and trace its shadow over at least 30 minutes, but it's something you could do over an extended lunch break.
posted by valkyryn at 12:11 PM on October 30, 2008

What about tracking and shelter building? Everyone need's basic survival skills. If you've already worked on identifying plants, what about identifying edible plants?
posted by sunshinesky at 12:17 PM on October 30, 2008

d'0h.. needs.
posted by sunshinesky at 12:18 PM on October 30, 2008

Teach them about local animals/insects. What kinds live in the area, what their 'homes' look like, their tracks, where they find food, when to see them.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:26 PM on October 30, 2008

I hear geocaching is fun for kids. I don't like hiking being a learning experience per se, I just like being out in the woods with my kids. We have some really good conversations in the woods that we'd never have around a kitchen table. Mr headnsouth has an agenda for every hike though, and to tell you the truth they really don't like hiking with him much. But yeah, lots of people say geocaching is fun.
posted by headnsouth at 12:28 PM on October 30, 2008

Best answer: Teach them to pee standing up.

That could be one for their mom...
posted by Iteki at 12:31 PM on October 30, 2008

Teach them material from a book like this. Most importantly, help them to understand when they are in danger. Not being able to recognize an emergency is often the cause of the disaster.

Also, teach them when to turn back. Sometimes, you just have to say, "Not today."
posted by ewkpates at 12:39 PM on October 30, 2008

How about the Ten Essentials?
posted by ysabella at 1:03 PM on October 30, 2008

Teach them plant identification by leaf and by growth pattern. I imagine this would be pretty cool in an arid but surprisingly diverse area like AZ.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:05 PM on October 30, 2008

May I suggest the Hieroglyphics Trail as one of your hikes?
posted by Sassyfras at 1:13 PM on October 30, 2008

Step one is Situational Awareness. As in, paying attention to what's around them, weather, terrain, etc.

I will suggest (for you to read) Deep Survival. In this book you will find a simple way to find your way back 'home' when the terrain seems to lack significant landmarks. That alone is an essential skill.

posted by trinity8-director at 1:15 PM on October 30, 2008

I took a very cool overnight tent camping trip on Peralta Trail last spring. It's a pretty brutal climb while wearing a backpack (2000-ish feet over 4 miles) to the top of the first summit, which is as far as we went, but it's gorgeous. Going another 2 or 3 miles would've got us to the base of Weaver's Needle, which is visible from that first summit. It's located off the 60 out past Apache Junction.

There's also a lot of good day hikes in Lost Dutchman, which is northeast of Apache Junction.

Also, I feel like I should point out The Best in Tent Camping: Arizona, which was written by some friends of mine. It deals with drive-in rather than hike-in camping, but it still has lots of tidbits about neat nature areas, and usually indicates if longer hikes are available.

As for activities, orienteering is fun, but not necessarily the best idea in the desert -- I'm not sure I'd want to get far from known trails. Second astronomy, especially if you're far enough out to see the stars more clearly than downtown.
posted by Alterscape at 1:21 PM on October 30, 2008

There are all kinds of fun science lessons to be learned/illustrated while hiking such as the water cycle, nitrogen cycle, etc. You can also make a game out of identifying bird calls (or birds), being sure to tote along a good field guide.

You also could play word games to pass the time it takes to travel from one point of interest to another, like the old "I went to the store and I bought Apples," in which each person recites the list and adds an item for others to memorize, recite and add to.

What a nice way to spend time with your daughters!
posted by RingerChopChop at 1:40 PM on October 30, 2008

So many great ideas above! One of my grandmas and my dad were both very into this sort of thing, and we did a lot of what's described by others (man, I wish we'd had geocaching back then!), and I feel like my life has been exponentially improved and enhanced by those experiences. Good on ya for giving your daughters this experience and opportunity (and quality attention).

I'd add in encouraging them to practice their observational skills by recording the sights, discoveries, and learnings in journals to their ability/attention span limitations. Sketches of critters & plants, saving samples, maybe even practicing observational photography? Obviously, only if they're interested, but some kids really get into the world-famous naturalist/explorer thing at that point but don't realise they can do it, too.
posted by batmonkey at 1:57 PM on October 30, 2008

Sedona is 115 miles away and is pretty incredible in terms of views and terrain.
posted by mkb at 1:57 PM on October 30, 2008

Depending on the legality in your area, teach them to build, light, extingish and clean up after a campfire. Because of their ages you'll be doing most of the work, but you can make sure that they understand the key principles.

You can work in plenty of stuff about caring for the environment (choosing a good site, cutting and replacing turf to minimise damage, etc), which woods burn well and how to recognise them, etc. You can even get in a bit about how fire works, e.g. the "triangle" of heat/fuel/air, or the idea that the fuel gets transformed into gas, water vapour and (in this case) ash/soot. Obviously you'll want to heavily stress the fire safety angle, and the need to have a parent around until they're much older.

Most importantly, you can teach them that fire is useful and potentially dangerous and therefore needs to be respected, but is not *scary*. I've met several adults who are terrified of fire simply because they've never seen a naked flame bigger than a candle, outside the context of houses burning down on the TV. The same general principle (that, with care, powerful things can be controlled and made useful) can later be applied when you're teaching them to use sharp tools, ride bikes on the road, etc.

Oh, and then you can toast marshmallows and make smores. (I have no idea what smores is or are, but I hear you USians go crazy about them. Someday I'll give it or them a try...)
posted by metaBugs at 2:00 PM on October 30, 2008

Best answer: Can you sneak around a corner or behind a bush as they're looking at other things, and drop a couple junior mints on the ground? Then you call them over, saying, "Look at this scat I found! I wonder if we can figure out what kind of animal it's from!" Once you've speculated about all the local animals that might produce that kind of poop, pick one up, sniff it, and give it a lick. Hmmm.... Maybe you'll have to pop it in your mouth and give it a long, thoughtful chew. When you start to get really afraid their eyes will pop out of their heads, try to talk them each into eating a piece and then have a good laugh.

Survival is important, and nature knowledge is great, but knowing that it's ok to be silly, even in the great outdoors, is excellent!
posted by vytae at 2:32 PM on October 30, 2008

Oh, and MetaBugs: s'mores are sandwiches with graham crackers on the outside and chocolate candy bar with freshly-fire-roasted marshmallows on the inside. Highly recommended.
posted by vytae at 2:34 PM on October 30, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the great suggestions, all!

I suppose I have been neglecting the safety aspect of our hikes (what to do if you get lost, caught in a storm, lightning, etc.), so that will probably be what we start with this year.

headnsouth: I agree that not every second of every hike should be a "learning experience"; I had that little argument with myself as I wrote the question. My children (and probably most children in our modern world) need the chance to get out in an unstructured environment and simply experience "nature" far more frequently than they do. Nevertheless, I hope it will add a dimension of intellectual engagement for them. Plus, survival skills never hurt.

Iteki: interesting suggestion, but I do think I'll leave that one to mom. I hadn't thought squatting was such a problem, but your links are thought-provoking.

vytae: clever idea, with the junior mints.

metaBugs, in my experience s'mores are overrated and hardly ever work out right, anyway. For camping food, I prefer a nice dutch oven cobbler, but it's hard to make on a stick.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 3:56 PM on October 30, 2008

"Don't step on it, if you can step over it.
Don't step over it, if you can step around it."
posted by Cobalt at 5:11 PM on October 30, 2008

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