Get your kid into snowshoes, plug into nature together, become a kid again – Sentinel and Enterprise | #parenting

“Grammy, are these your woods?”

A procession of family members, young and old, squeezed down a hillside of evergreens and an old stone wall bordering our property. Papa led the way, his headlamp eventually switched off after our eyes adjusted. We’d trekked out under the moonlit sky after dinner, the snow a powdery wake behind us as we blazed a path through the new fallen snow. The forest seemed to welcome us in as if it were a homecoming of sorts.

Snow sifted in plumb lines like sugar through the boughs above as we brushed by the balsams, firs and beeches which trembled with last summer’s leaves clinging like paper prayers. I pinched the tip of a green sprig and twisted it, held it under my grandson’s nose. He smiled taking in its pleasant, piney fragrance in the moonlight. We moved further into the forest. I snapped a branch out of the way, tossing it into the darkness. The air was cold, but clean. We were filled with the kind of warmth that generates when bodies move and move together on a course toward a common goal. Ours was a nighttime adventure in nature, the kind that gets stored as a keepsake in the drawers of lovely bureaus we like to call memories.

A barred owl sounded our approach and in the distance another owl seconded the message.

The woods abound with precious beauty. Even a backyard tree is filled with a million stories when you look closely. Lichen that looks like lace. A winter bird fluffing it’s feathers to keep warm. Ice castles which form tiny kingdoms in the exposed roots. Mushrooms that inspire ruffled petticoats. Animal tracks, that tell a passerby they are not alone in the woods. Birds, mammals and dormant creatures under the ice, prey and predator, all living right alongside us. In these treed cathedrals, so much is alive, even in the dead of winter.

Getting outdoors renews the spirit, yes, and reminds us that we are animals too. There is a lively process when we step into an environment from which we came. We are filled with wonder and humbled. And God knows, we can all use a little wonderment and humility now and then. Our children are no exception.

The powerful sense of being present pleasantly springs from coming together in the primordial place of the great outdoors. It calls us home to an undeniable connection to the natural world often hidden from manmade walls we necessarily must erect. But kids instinctually feel these nurtured connections which nature offers to our well-being. When we enjoy these places together, we are free to challenge ourselves to explore, wonder, appreciate and learn.

These moments can inform. Witnessing for the first time, the Big Dipper, a woodpecker’s work, or the barred owl that swooped across our path, inspires a child to build on that real world experience. You never know where it will take you and that is part of the adventure.

I plucked a pine needle from an eastern white pine. A fluffy bank grows along the bog’s edge and provides a haven for chattering chipmunks and squirrels, and singing chickadees and other passerines. Our youngest daughter was interested for years in indigenous edibles. A registered nurse now, she taught us that our Native American ancestors included this citrusy staple in their diets. We munched the needles, keen on the taste, careful to spit the mashed leftover out onto the snow when the tang waned.

The moon shone down as we scaled a hill, minding not to whack the person behind with a twiggy branch crossing the way. We moved like this to the top of the hill in the moonlit clearing.

“These woods,” I said, “ are yours, too.”

They belong to everyone who wants to explore them. We were a part of them. They bring us all together.

The exercise and fresh air were good for us. The body wants to be outdoors moving and breathing and discovering. Those are all worthwhile benefits for sure. But the most beneficent of all is the remembering. The recalling from whence we came. Back and back and back, through the memory of generation upon generation of shared experience which feeds the nature deep inside each of us. That is the story we must teach our children so that they never forget the beauty of the woods where life abounds just as they do when they set out to see what lies beyond.

Bonnie Toomey’s stories, essays, and poems have been featured in Baystateparent Magazine, New Hampshire Parents Magazine, Baystate Echo, Penwood Review, and Solace in a Book. She worked as an adjunct at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, where she earned a master’s degree in literacy. She writes about life in the 21st century and lives in New Hampshire with her husband. Learn more at

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