It’s never to early to take a hike.
Two years ago, outdoor enthusiast Jennifer Blender began the Parent and Child Hiking Group on Facebook, where members can get together and plan weekly hikes to a variety of trails in and around Guelph.
“Kids love to learn new things. They are naturally curious,” Blender says. “I was always interested in nature as a child and I thought there must be other families who are interested too so I started my own group. When it first began, I received over 60 responses and since then, it’s just grown.”
The group runs all year and gets together once a week, usually for about a two-hour excursion in the morning to explore one of the many trails Guelph has to offer.
Blender says she might also be including an additional afternoon hike during the week due to increasing demand.
“It’s something for everyone. This is for families, kids, caregivers and foster parents. There are no age barriers. Kids play together as they check animal tracks and parents have the opportunity to connect with each other,” Blender says.
Hiking promotes an active and healthy lifestyle for the whole family which helps forge self-confidence, promote problem-solving skills and instills a love of and respect for nature.
“I find it disheartening to see the shift to technology today. There is more of a connection to technology and more of a disconnect with nature,” Blender said.
“Kids are naturally curious, and I find that when parents come out, they often say they are able to slow down with their kids and see things through their eyes.”
From mushrooms to moths, Blender is ready to examine and share her findings and love of nature with the group.
For Nicole Lahaie, it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn.
She and her seven-year-old son Jasper have been on several hikes with Blender and recently joined the group for apple collection at Smith Property Loop in Guelph.
“It’s a great opportunity for kids to get out into nature and Jennifer is very knowledgeable and she is always willing to share her knowledge,” Lahaie said.
And with attendance becoming more regular, Blender has also begun making hikes more ‘activity based’.
“We’ve made grape vine wreaths and bird feeders. And in the winter, there’s been tobogganing and ice skating. There’s usually a different theme every week,” Lahaie said.
Blender, a mother of two, says she does try to mix things up.
“Kids will ask, what’s this bug or what’s this plant? They want to learn. My son loves animal movements and my daughter loves mushrooms. Spending time with your kids in nature, it makes you want to learn more about it too,” Blender said.
“And we are very lucky to live in Guelph, even though we are losing so much green space. But I do try to remember that there are other cities that don’t have this much green space so for a larger municipality, we are very lucky.”
For Blender, the hiking group offers an opportunity to bring all outdoor enthusiasts together, young and old.
“I love the people I’ve met,” she said.
“I would be doing this anyways with my kids to expand their naturalistic learning, so why not have others join us?”
For more information visit the group's Facebook page.