I have been blown away by the responses from my recent post Nature for All where I talk about the hiking group I launched in my town. Our hiking group provides a safe and accepting environment for families who have kids with or without special needs. We welcome all families and all children. Our goal is to get kids outdoors and connected with nature, no matter the obstacles. I have seen first-hand the healing powers of nature for my sweet Big Brother and I want others to experience that as well.
Our first hike was a huge success and was pure fun for all involved. I can hardly wait for next month’s hike and I’m going to start planning it tonight! A lot of people have shown interest in doing something similar in their own towns. So I thought I would give you some tips to help you get started. Being outdoors is my passion and way of life, so the creation of this hiking group has been the best experience for me! I hope you find some helpful tips below and that you become inspired to start your own group. You can do it!!
1. Intrigue your friends.
I had been wanting to start a hiking group for many months but I wasn’t really sure if anyone would be interested. Then one night I asked my friends via f@cebook if they would be interested in joining a hiking group led by yours truly. My friends knew I was a family-hiking kind of gal, so it was not a far stretch for me to ask such a thing. I have many friends with young children and several close friends whose children have special needs. The instant response was larger than I expected. I was stoked.
2. Make an online space for your group.
The next thing I did was create an online space where those who were interested could connect and leave input for me. Using f@cebook, I very easily set up a page, invited my interested friends to join, then asked them to ask their interested friends to join. Then I posted a mission statement and even posted our first event so that everyone could RSVP.
3. Make a plan.
So about that first event…..well, you’ve got to have some sort of plan in place! For me, I already had a few hiking places in mind that would be accessible to a wide range of abilities. We are blessed with a local nature park that boasts hudreds of miles of trails of varying lengths and difficulty, with even some trails being paved. We are even luckier to have a multitude of natural areas right around the city that make great family-friendly hiking destinations.
Remember, it is not about the destination or even the type of trail, it is about getting kids outdoors and connected with nature. You don’t even have to use a designated hiking trail. Got a pond? Go on a nature walk around it and submerse yourselves into the wildlife and surrounding terrain. Build a garden together for a local school. Go pick strawberries together and then hunt for bugs. Get creative. No matter where you live, you will be able to find some place in nature for your group to explore. Even if you have children with profound special needs and/or physical disabilities, there will always be places where nature is within reach, you just might have to get creative.
4. Think about capabilities and logistics.
Once the group was formed, I had to make sure to think about all the needs represented by the children involved. My goal was to be able to cater to a wide range of needs by offering a different type of hike each month. Some months may be a bit more strenuous than others, but I want everyone involved to have the chance to take a hike, even if that means a short nature walk on a paved path. So I am thinking about variety. I will definitley be seeking input from my families in the coming months about what types of hikes they and their children feel comfortable with. Anytime you are hiking with young children and those with special needs, safety must be your top priority.
5. Spread the word.
Once our first event was finalized, I really tried to spread the word (and had other friends do the same) to reach those who I might not know personally but who would love to join in. So far, we’ve had lots of interest, especially after everyone saw how much fun we had on our first hike Make sure to post the trail pictures to your group page so all the world can see what they are missing.
6. Make it fun.
Add a scavenger hunt to your hike. Make sure to stop and let the kids splash in the creek, dig for worms, feel the moss and play in the mud. Teach them about the insects, plants and wildlife you come across on the hike. Bring some treats for the kids to enjoy. End the day with time at a nearby playground. Have a picnic together. Make T-shirts for your group to wear. Play games. Remember, it’s all about FUN! You want the kids to be begging for more. You want them to see and experience how much fun being outdoors can be. If it’s not fun, then you’re doing something wrong!
Here are some other posts that may help you out as well: