Hiking with a toddler

Hiking and camping was always our favorite activity before we had our son. When he came around, hiking was really easy when he was a baby. As a colicky baby, we spent many nights walking our neighborhood- walking was always an activity that calmed him down. He screamed at home and in cars, but if we were walking outside, he was always so peaceful. My husband would normally carry him in the ergo while I would carry diapers and our supplies in a small backpack. Long hikes were easy until he was about 9 months old as I was his only source of nutrition.

When he was a crawling baby, but still not walking, we switched from the ergo to the Osprey backpack. He loved having a higher vantage point, and found it easier than a stroller at times, so we would use it for trips around town even. It carries a lot, so diapers, water and food were easy to pack along. It has a removable backpack, so I could unzip it and carry it if the weight was too much for one person.

Always napped great outside: ergo, stroller, backpack, as long as we kept moving!

While I have carried my son in the backpack, since he has gotten heavier, I find it hard on my back. I am also seven months pregnant and don’t feel comfortable carrying that weight. Luckily, we go as a family most of the time, but I will take the Bob stroller if I am alone. Our son is now 21 months old, around 28 lbs, and my husband still finds the backpack comfortable.

The current issue is that our son loves to walk and run and explore (this is great it just means we can’t hike long distances). He doesn’t want to sit in the backpack for long, so since he started walking we have been confined to shorter 1-2 mile hikes. He will walk about half of it and he will ride periodically. Since we want him to develop his walking, running and strength skills we haven’t pushed him to stay in the backpack for longer hikes. Our son loves stopping to pick up pine cones, sticks and rocks, so we take 3 steps forward and 2 steps back. The key to toddler hikes is bringing all of the snacks. I normally bring 2 snacks per hour we are going to be out, and then throw in an extra just in case (which normally gets eaten).

Key stages of hiking with young babies and toddlers:

  • 0 months- 7 months: ergo carrier
  • 7-9 months: ergo for sleeping hikes and backpack for awake hikes (when he was younger, it wasn’t great on his neck to fall asleep in the backpack so we carried both so we could use the ergo for napping and nursing)
  • 10 months- 14 months: long backpack hikes (3-8 miles were pretty easy)
  • 15 months- 21 months (currently): short backpack hikes. If the hike is 1/2 mile or less, we won’t even take the backpack, he’ll just walk on his own

Since our son was colicky and the nights were very, very rough for 5 months, we never attempted to take him backpacking. I think that backpacking would be very easy in the beginning, especially if you are breastfeeding and don’t have to worry about mixing formula, and bringing water and bottles for this. You just have to carry out all the diapers and manage to carry all the camping supplies you need; more difficult with a baby but much less difficult than having a crawling or walking child.

We have done a lot of front country camping with him which is a lot of fun. It just depends on his developmental stage, mood and health level that has made the trips fun or difficult. We have found that as long as he is healthy, front country camping isn’t any more work than being at home. If your child won’t nap in a backpack though, this could make nap time a little difficult.

Overall, nature and kids go together so well. Being outside makes our whole family happier and healthier, so we make an effort to go for urban or nature hikes everyday.

Patience and Montessori

I haven’t published a story in awhile, and by awhile it’s been since July. If you have children, which is highly likely if you are reading this, you’ll know why. Toddlers have energetic bodies and minds that don’t leave a lot of time for blog writing. My 20 month old son can run all day, play all day, but sitting down and doing a quiet activity isn’t an option. Keeping him engaged means there is zero time for picture taking, let alone blog writing!

Instead of fighting this stage of development, I’ve decided to meet him where is is. This means we are outside all day, going to parks, on hikes, in the backyard, and neighborhood walks. Time inside is spent reading, playing with trucks, eating and sleeping. I feel like I spend most of my time redirecting his behavior if we are inside, as he is constantly climbing on tables or the dog, throwing books and/or toys. It takes a lot of patience to work through this with him. I told a friend recently that toddlers require more patience than a patient person has.

I have a lot of patience. Before becoming a mom, I taught high school and wrote a dissertation. They were both difficult jobs that tested my patience, but nothing compares with being a parent. Part of having patience means knowing what types of activities our little ones are interested in, rather than fighting against their desires. For my son, if we are running, playing, jumping, or exploring outside he is thrilled. Finding inside activities that engage his mind is more of a challenge. Yet by observing him, I have found some things that he likes to do. He loves to help cook and do specific chores (while he hates other chores).

Things that are working for us:

  • Outside play
  • Cooking (cutting bananas, peeling bananas, cracking eggs, sprinkling salt and pepper, stirring pans, pouring water)
  • Cleaning activities (sweeping up, putting laundry in the washer, taking down laundry from the line, putting clothes in the hamper, wiping up spills)
  • Reading books (all books, truck books, board books with lots of objects, animal books)
  • Playing with cars and trains

Things that are not working for us:

  • Toilet training (doesn’t mind being wet in cloth diapers, hates changes, scared of potty)
  • changing clothes
  • Throwing and biting

“Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.”
― Maria Montessori

It can be hard not to focus on the final product that you want a child to learn. In order to learn how to pour from a pitcher to a glass, there will be many spills cleaned up before it is done perfectly. It is easy to feel tired with the process as a mother, as you are constantly with your child, redirecting, teaching, and observing. I have found that it is easier if I focus on tasks that my son is engaged in and interested in, rather than those he dislikes. I still have to change his clothes, but I have found ways to make it easier for him. If we do it before we go outside, he sees it as a step to outside and is happy to change. If I give him two shirt options, one with animals he likes, then he is more likely to appreciate taking his dirty shirt off. The process of learning can be longer than my patience. This is when as a parent, I need to step back and realize that the process is important for him. It is much easier to hold our child’s hand to understanding than to pick up screaming to take him there.

“Our work is not to teach, but to help the absorbent mind in its work of development. How marvelous it would be if by our help, if by an intelligent treatment of the child, if by understanding the needs of his physical life and by feeding his intellect, we could prolong the period of functioning of the absorbent mind!”
― Maria Montessori

So if you are wondering where my crafty ideas have been, I have been busy cultivating patience and learning how to parent my son. Thankfully nature does most of the work for me when we’re outside.

Not picking flowers and the garden plants

toddler walking a gravel path through a garden with an applesauce pouch in his hand
Can’t pick flowers if his hands are full of food!

Parents are always on edge when a flower picking toddler is in a beautiful botanical garden with other plant enthusiasts watching. There is nothing worse that watching the disgust on a photographer’s face as your toddler picks a giant hibiscus flower. Thankfully this didn’t happen, but was I pretty on edge.

We all want our children to be able to explore their environment, especially when in nature, so how do we draw the limits? To a toddler mind it makes no sense that he can pick a dandelion but he can’t pick a rose. Why can he pick a flower in our yard but not in the neighbor’s yard that is 10 feet away?

vegetable garden with a fence around it
fenced off the garden to keep out rabbits and dog (but mainly toddler)

It is important that our toddler learns that some behaviors are socially unacceptable, for if they don’t, we risk leaving them and us alienated from society. So unless we all live on 10 acres to roam, we probably need to teach boundaries.

The Beauty of a Fence

Unfortunately boundaries have been hard for our son to learn, but the one method that has been effective and painless for everyone is to make physical boundaries.

  • We have a fence around our vegetable garden already, to keep out the dog and rabbits, so this was an easy one.
  • We built a fence around our blueberry bushes to keep little hands from picking and eating not ripe berries.
  • We put netting around our blackberry and raspberry vines that line our property fence, which keeps his hands out and the birds out.

I don’t like struggling with my son over things his little mind can’t process, so this way everyone is less frustrated.

When we go to the botanical gardens, I tell him that he can touch the plants with one finger but he can’t pick them. This only works for about 10 seconds before the urge to pick takes over, so I normally just try to distract his hands with food, rocks, sticks and other items that are acceptable for picking up.

As for my neighbor, I hope they don’t get too mad about the missing pansy…

toddler picking basil from garden and placing it in wicker basket
Letting the toddler into the garden to pick some basil for dinner

Nature Basket: Matching Nomenclature Cards to Object

My son is fascinated with everything outdoors. He loves being outside; if there was a refrigerator with food outside, I don’t think he would come inside at all. Twigs, rocks, dirt clumps, puddles, leaves, flowers, rocks, did I mention rocks? He is already a pro collector. I thought that a nature basket would be a good first matching activity for him.

I started by collecting four nature objects from our yard. We don’t have a pine tree, but luckily a neighbor does and the pine cones were laying in the street. While I may have been able to find a more durable leaf elsewhere, I wanted one that I had access to so I could replace it when he rips it up (I was right- day one with basket- ripped up leaf).

To make the cards, I took pictures on a white background hoping that it would blend in when I printed them out (not exactly but doable).

I then pasted these onto a word document, writing the name on top in English and on bottom in French. I really loved Three Minute Montessori’s post on the importance of choosing the right font. Since I was feeling a little lazy last night, I decided that font wasn’t too important since my son would probably destroy the cards before the writing meant much to him, and went with the print Comic Sans.

Here is the file I printed out to create the cards:

After printing, I used glossy laminate sheets that I had left over from my teaching days to laminate the cards. It is not a great laminate, definitely won’t last more than a month is my guess, but I already had them and don’t plan on buying a laminator… yet (they really aren’t that expensive these days).

Not professional grade but good enough for us!

First morning lesson went much better than I expected! He sat and watched as I brought each individual item out and matched it to the item. I made the first introduction short and then had him put the basket away on his shelf. We had a second lesson in the afternoon and he did well with handing me the object from the basket when I took out a specific card. The cards did get a lot of wear on them already so the next time around I will have to work at making the laminate stick better. I think I need to use two sheets of laminate stuck together instead of one sheet of laminate stuck to a piece of overlapping paper.

Side note: I forgot how spiky pine cones are and was worried that he would hurt himself, but he is very careful in holding it and seems to know not to squeeze.

Cost: $0.50 (for basket)

Advanced Learning: Three-Part Cards (one additional card with the label detached), Four-Part Cards (adding a definition), rotating and adding more objects to the basket, have the child make their own cards

Toddler’s First Community Service

With parenthood also comes an awareness of how much trash is left on sidewalks, parks, and nature trails. Kids love finding trash treasures, picking up a sticky bottle cap with glee as you rush towards them before they put it in their mouth. While we all know that being exposed to germs can help the little ones’ immune systems, we all have limits, and unknown sticky items left on a sidewalk is one of those limits.

As we celebrated Earth Day last week, it has me reflecting not only on my own practices, but on how I can help to instill environmental knowledge in my son. Hanging out at a playground with an abundance of trash items, I wondered if I could combine my son’s love of picking up trash with intentional teaching on recycling and litter clean up. Instead of ripping bottle caps and candy wrappers out of his hand as he screams with frustration that I am taking his treasure away, I decided to let him gather these items. I keep a clear gallon plastic bag in my purse and have him place his items in the bag. If he wants to hang on to them, he can view the trash through the bag. Allowing him to collect his trash treasures in a productive way has helped to decrease his frustration. Toddlers hate being told not do something, but if you teach them how to do it in a healthy way they are thankful and appreciative (well, not all of the time, but it sure does help!). I will say that there are some items (like glass shards and other unmentionables) that I make sure to keep him far away from.

When we get home from our outing, I place the items in the trash or recycling. In the future, I will let him sort the items into the proper containers. As he grows up, I look forward to extending this activity to community clean-up events.

Toddler picking up a piece of trash on a playground
My little guy finding a trash treasure on the playground

Talking and explaining to children the importance of recycling at a young age is important- repetition and consistency with our practice will help to instill this environmental standard in the next generation. What Earth Day traditions do you have with your children? What ways have you found helpful in teaching children about recycling?

If only I could get over the irony of using a plastic bag…

Cost: $0

Advanced Learning: Incorporate talks on minimizing the trash we create, the importance of reduce, reuse and recycle, look up community cleanups to participate in together.

Rainy Day Blues

There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather Book Cover

After hearing about this book from multiple sources, I decided to check it out from the local public library (the best way to read books: support local libraries and reuse materials). What an important book for me to read! Growing up in Seattle, Washington, I lived in the rain throughout my childhood. I don’t remember the rain, or being bummed if it was cloudy; I just remember being a kid and playing in the woods behind my house. I remember disappearing for hours with my neighborhood best friend, coming back after climbing trees and catching tadpoles.

When I had my son, I realized I had become a fair weather outdoors woman. I loved backpacking, but not if it was too hot or too buggy. I loved hiking, but definitely not in the rain. I enjoyed a bike ride but only if it was a crisp and clear day. The long Tennessee winters, the dreary sky, lack of snow and abundance of cold rain wrought havoc on my spirit. I wanted to be different for my son. I didn’t want to be timid and dreary. This book was exactly the motivation I needed to get off my couch and get us outside. I read this book in January and promptly scoured the local thrift stores for rain gear and boots for my one year old. Apparently going outside isn’t very popular with a one year old who just started walking, I had such a difficult time finding used gear and waterproof boots for my toddler.

I switched from looking at thrift stores and consignment shops and went online. After awhile, I found a waterproof onesie from Mountain Warehouse.

Light Blue Rain Suit

It was on sale for $30 and included a removable fleece liner, so that I could continue to use this through the summer and fall. I purchased a 12-18 month size and it was almost comically too big. He could still walk around and so I was glad it would last so long.

With the rain suit bought I needed waterproof shoes. If his feet gets wet he gets really cranky and wants to be held, but still wants to be outside. How do you keep a newly walking toddler’s feet dry? Rubber rain boots seem too heavy for a new walker. I had heard that Croc makes a lightweight boot but their smallest size is 6 and my son is a 4. I had to sacrifice my pocket book and I found a company in Vancouver that makes boots for the little ones. MyMayu makes boots for the very very young. They are flexible, lightweight and seemed like they would be perfect. I bought a size 5/6 with a liner so that they would fit for a long time. I justified the price with the fact that the next child would be able to wear them too. They were a tad big, but with the liner and heavy socks he learned to walk around just fine. They aren’t 100% waterproof, the liner will feel wet, but his socks never feel wet. His feet stay dry and warm.

My son loves going outside from the minute he wakes up, he likes to find his shoes and then put them in our lap, pointing at the door, “Da da da da”. While I am still not entirely thrilled that I have found myself on more than one occasion standing outside in the 45 degree rain before I have finished my first cup of coffee in the morning, I must admit, I feel better after being outside, even in these conditions. With each cold and wet morning I spend standing in the grass, I know I am learning to love all kinds of weather again. Here’s to hoping that my son will keep his enthusiasm for the rain.