by Dr Angel Adams, Dr Patricia Papciak
An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day
– Henry David Thoreau –
How long has it been since you and your children took a walk outdoors, with no destiny in mind, for no specific reason, with no bikes, no scooters or footballs to accompany you, just simply with the goal to enjoy your time together while admiring the world of nature? You may be surprised by the countless splendours you can encounter together when you become mindful of all that is around you. Today I walked by a gigantic tree with shimmering green leaves that sounded like an orchestra of wind instruments, that of course the wind was having a magnificent time playing.
You don’t even have to drive for miles. There is always a park nearby. Some of us have the exceptional luck of living near the sea or mountains, but nature is all around us and surrounds us continuously. Unfortunately, our jobs and our hectic schedules and our children’s after school clubs and sports make us all so busy or in too much of a hurry to notice and to enjoy these splendid moments outside. Taking walks is great for children on the spectrum as there is the combination of the predictable but also the element of surprise. There is so much to share together. You can play games like finding treasures and playing hide and seek, singing together, playing “I spy with my little eye”. You and your children will always find something special to share together. Make sure you bring your digital camera to take pictures of you and your children experiencing special moments together. Children with ASD have problems with episodic memory so when they can see the photos at a later time it helps them to remember those times that they were exploring and having a fun adventure together!
Walking is wonderful. Walking makes you move. Walking slows you down so you see everything more clearly. Walking with your loved ones has so many advantages because you experience your world in slow motion even if your walk is brisk. First, you have a lovely visit with your friend or your adult child who’s visiting you from a break at university, with plenty of time to talk because you don’t have the distractions that you have at home. Secondly, you experience the beauty and grandeur of the great outdoors.
Right now it is spring and the cherry blossom trees, the tulips, the magnolias and the wisteria are showing just how glamorous they are. It’s a time to smell the jasmine and honeysuckle, pick flowers (that are really weeds but still wonderful), collect rocks, hear the birds singing. In the summer you are enriched by all the wild life. In the fall you are blessed with the awesome colour of leaves changing. In the winter you can look for animal tracks and make angels in the snow.
The walks can be short at first. But they will lengthen as you build up your stamina. We can almost guarantee you that if you are tired before the walk, you will be absolutely invigorated by the fresh air and you will have renewed energy to help you get through all the tasks you need to do. The times I remember most affectionately are those walks with my father when I was a child and how he introduced me to the magic and wonders of nature that he was so passionate about.
It is calming to walk in silence for a while and hear all the sounds of nature. Walk quietly so that you might see the rabbit, the squirrel or the hawk. Or you may be surprised by a stag and a few goats that come right up close, or sheep with their baby lambs. You might see the river meandering slowly along with the boats pushing through the water. You can see the bluebells that are presently covering the forest floors in the Surrey country side or in Richmond Park to name a few.
Photo by Paul Batten
You feel the fresh air against your skin and you breathe and take it all in. And, of course, you exercise. You move your muscles, you burn calories, you oxygenate your system, you sweat out toxins if you’re hiking up some hills, and you activate the endorphins that make you feel great naturally!
There are lots of articles and books currently about the advantages of walking. Many of them focus on weight loss, but it’s so important not to lose sight of all the other advantages. Many people are motivated to go outdoors when the sun is shining to enjoy the warm glow of the sun on their faces after a long cloudy, rainy winter. But children don’t much care about the weather. It’s even fun to walk in the rain, with the right gear on. We have a dog that loves jumping in puddles!
Older children might be more interested in where the walk is taking them. Will they see animals? Will they see boats? Will there be an ice cream to relish at the other end of the journey? Eventually it becomes something they look forward to again on your next walk at the same place. They’ll walk to see the frozen pond, the rabbit holes, or the two separate trees whose branches grew together, or the huge oak tree that fell over and all the roots look like something out of a fantasy story book.
Photo by Paul Batten
It is okay if kids are more goal-oriented in their walking. It’s up to us as parents to point out other things that we want our children to notice. Try making them aware of the different kinds of trees, learn some Latin names, go back home and look up the bird you saw in a book or on the internet. Children are sponges for information, and they love to make their new information known to their friends. Here are some tips for walking:
- The appropriate clothing is important. You might have to pay attention to the kind of shoes you are wearing. Shoes are very vital for good exercise; you must be comfortable to get the full advantage of your adventure. Also, are you warm enough or cool enough?
- Consider taking a light backpack so you can put in or pull out a jumper or an umbrella or a chocolate bar. Whoops, you wouldn’t be wearing a chocolate bar, but it might be a nice surprise.
- Ask your child where they would like to go. If children get into little adventures walking, they might want to go out of town some time and visit a national park where there are walking trails. The UK has plenty of sites to see with cathedrals and castles that combine art, architecture and history.
Photo by Paul Batten
- You could do a meditative walk together. Thich Nhat Hahn, the Buddhist monk, describes walking meditation as a way to connect body and soul with the here and now. This is great for adults with ADHD. Put away the mobiles and iPods and take one slow small step at a time and notice your surroundings as you breathe naturally. When you breathe in, you make three slow steps. Bring your attention to the soles of your feet, and become aware of the contact between your foot and the earth. Continue another three steps and so on.
- Take a walk before your child has their homework routines as it might help to better focus him or her. Walking is great for kids with ADHD because it helps to ground them while at the same time allows them to experience the freedom of the outdoors after being contained in the classroom all day.
- If you are going to take longer walks in the country side on the weekends bring a healthy picnic lunch, water and a small first aid kit and a tiny bottle of aloe vera gel. It’s great for stinging nettles, cuts or sunburns.
- Here are a few things you might want to take with you if you are going to have a nature adventure:
- A pair of lightweight binoculars for bird watching
- A magnifying glass to get up close and personal with bugs and other small creatures.
- A plastic jar with a mesh lid for insects.
- A burlap bag to collect small rocks, acorns, shells, leaves, or pine cones.
- A sketch book or small notebook for notes or drawings.
So we encourage you to do more then just say you are going to take walks with your kids… walk the walk! Have fun and create lots of memories that will last a lifetime.
Dr Angel Adams walking in the California hills with her daughter in the 80’s
I would like say a special thanks to Paul Batten, our walking buddy, who supplied the photos of our Surrey walks.
Thanks for taking the time to read this Monday’s Motivational article.
Please feel free to send me any comments or your own stories you wish to share, or post them on this site by leaving a comment below.