“Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us.”
One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the habit of gratitude, fostering within them with the ability to raise forth positive emotions in their own lives.
Practicing gratitude as a family not only instills children with a lifelong ability to evoke positive emotions, but it also builds deeper family bonds. We build family connections through hiking, but one of my favorite ways to teach gratitude along the way is by taking a Thank You Walk.
The concept of a Thank You or Gratitude walk is said to have been conceived by mega-guru Tony Robbins as a way to manifest your goals and improve your mindset. In my opinion, it goes back even further to Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, who wrote the incredible “Peace is Every Step.” Even if you’re not Buddhist or a big believer in the law of attraction, I think we all could use a little more positive psychology in our lives, and it doesn’t get any easier than taking a walk. Step 1: Open the door. Step 2: Walk out the door….just kidding! But honestly, get outdoors and go for a walk.
Some folks do this practice by front-loading their gratitude intentions into each step, letting the rhythm of their steps guide their thoughts. I find this tricky to do with my younger kids so we combined two gratitude activities into one (you can’t have enough gratitude after all, right?)
For your gratitude tree, you will need a handful of sticks to place in a vase. So we set out on our walk to collect some fallen sticks. As we began our walk, I told my children that with each stick they picked up I wanted them to say out loud something they were grateful for. I think when children are younger, having a physical representation of those blessings helps them. Another way to introduce this concept is to read the wonderful book, “A Thank You Walk,” by Nancy Loewen before you head out the door.
Bring the sticks home, stick ’em in a vase and print out this Gratitude Activity. Cut out the leaves and write down some things you and your children are grateful for. Tie them onto the sticks with some bits of string, voila! We like to write down one blessing a day until Thanksgiving, and then share them all out loud, during our holiday meal.
Do you have any family traditions that help foster gratitude? Share them in the comments!
I’ve never known anyone yet who doesn’t suffer a certain restlessness when autumn rolls around… We’re all eight years old again and anything is possible.
As the leaves drop and the temperatures follow, keeping up interest and excitement in getting outdoors can pose a challenge. Check out this list of fall activities that might just be the shake-up you and your family need.
Fall Colors Hike – Head outside and see if you can find a leaf in every color of the rainbow. Grab some paint samples from the hardware store and carry them along to match the hues!
Go for a bike hike! Take your bicycle along on the adventure! Don’t be afraid to walk or leave it at the side of the road or trail to explore.
Hit up a local apple orchard, corn maze, or pumpkin patch for an outdoor change of scenery.
Go for a costume hike! Dress up in your favorite Halloween gear and hit the trails!
Leaf ID Scavenger Hunt. Bring along this printable guide or collect what you find and ID at home. Try your hand at leaf rubbing.
Go for a full moon hike. Bundle up and don’t forget the flashlights and glow sticks.
Fall Scavenger Hunt – Berkshire Family Hikes nature boards are a great option for fall hiking! Slide in the fall scavenger hunt insert or take it along for leaf collecting!
Bat Hunt – Go out at dusk and look to the skies for bat activity. Collect twigs and leaves to make this adorable bat craft from Little Pine Learners.
Puddle Jumping excursion – Gear up and jump in some autumn rain puddles. Come home and warm up with a mug of spiced apple cider or egg nog.
Potion Hike – Go on a hike with the intention of collecting ingredients for a special potion! Give your mini witch or wizard the freedom to collect and brew a spooky elixir.
Spider Web Hunt – As the days get shorter and the nights longer, another sign of fall is bigger and bigger spiderwebs popping up laced with morning dew drops. Here’s how to preserve the webs you find, from Inner Child Fun.
Birds and wasps have begun to abandon their nests and hives. Now visible in the bare trees, go out and spot or photograph some or collect for your at-home nature table.
Need an indoor activity? Some libraries are starting to open back up and it can make for a nice transition back into the day-to-day public. Grab some fall books and sit outside under your favorite tree to read. Here’s a list of some of our favorite fall reads.
Raei is the CEO, founder and lead guide at The Rusty Anvil, a local Berkshire organization that connects marginalized communities, People of Color, and LGBTQ+ individuals with the natural world through wilderness trips, wildlife study, and outdoor skills.
Raei is also a certified Mindful Outdoor Guide as well as co-chair on the Environmental Justice Board for the NAACP. He leads youth immersions, mindful wilderness trips, diversity trainings, and teaches place-based skills. He has been chosen by Berkshire Magazine as one of the Berkshire’s 25 most creative, most dedicated and most influential individuals in 2020.
Recently, Raei graciously answered some questions for BFH about his work as an educator, activist, and environmentalist, as well as his personal passions and experiences in the outdoors.
BFH: How important has nature and the outdoors been in your life?
Raei Bridges: Nature has been a guide to reconnecting with my lineage, myself, and my identity. It has been a place that has brought me closer to the community. Reconnecting to nature is crucial to my liberation as a queer person of color.
What’s your earliest memory in relation to the outdoors?
My earliest memory is spending time in the large pepper tree in my backyard as a child in CA. I used to pretend I was a monkey with my siblings and we would save our baby dolls before they fell from the branches. Also memories of swinging from the Aspen tree in my front yard was a great memory I will never forget.
How important do you think it is for children to get outdoors and why?
Our issue as a species is that we have no idea how to address adolescence yet we force our youth to follow guidelines that we create for them. To have youth that grow up with nature as their main guide in finding themselves is crucial to our freedom and liberation as a species.
What led you to this particular field?
As a queer person of color my interest in nature connection work came from both my own experiences of finding myself and the gifts of my identity while immersed in the backcountry. As someone who grew up in the city I didn’t really have access to large green spaces growing up. So this experience was truly an awakening. As I got more involved in the work I really began noticing the lack of representation for people of color as outdoor guides and naturalists, so I began working to build spaces for POC folks to reconnect to nature and find healing in their relationship with the land.
When did you know you wanted to work in nature and the outdoors?
When I had an experience in nature that made me feel shame for not already knowing the names of species or how to do certain things. I didn’t understand how even within a community focused on healing and connection to nature there could be shaming for not already having that connection. It became apparent that there needed to be more spaces for POC and queer folks to come as they are without all the pressure of having to know everything in order to be respected. #Decolonizenatureconnection!
What’s the biggest surprise you’ve had in the last two months?
The realization that even with all the conversation and protests black and brown people are still being killed off like animals. It is a surprise that I still have to deal with this in 2020.
If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be and why?
I would be a pine tree. Because they guide us through the seasons, they hold space for other animals and provide so much medicine. Pine holds so much ancestral knowledge that I hope to continue learning from.
What do you enjoy most about nature and the outdoors?
I enjoy feeling like I am reclaiming something that allows me to enjoy myself without worry. I enjoy connecting with wildlife and feeling like I am embodying the life of my ancestors more closely.
What keeps you up at night?
The fear that as a black man my life is in danger no matter where I am.
What’s your favorite sound in nature?
The barred owl or the wood thrush, the leaves whispering in the breeze, the water flowing through the landscape, the sound of silence…
If you had extra funds in your budget, how would you spend it?
I would buy a piece of land where I can hold immersions, grow food, and provide a space of healing for queer POC folks. It would be a space where folks can come to learn, connect, and engage with nature. It would be a space that holds nature camps, workshops, wilderness trips, and community gatherings. It would be called The Rusty Anvil.
What are some things you’re researching right now?
How do you continue to learn in order to stay on top of things within your role?
I always try to spend time deepening my relationship to the outdoors. I also like to take immersions for myself so I am never learning from a super analytical perspective and always learning with an embodied knowledge.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle preventing people from getting outdoors?
Time to get away from the demand of industrial lifestyles. Access to gear and people they feel comfortable with.
If you could have a billboard with one message on it, what would it say?
BlackLivesMatter. No one is free until we are all free.
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As seasons go, Fall is definitely my favorite. Crisp, cool air makes for perfect hiking weather and the colors! The changing colors I just can’t seem to get enough of. But if one thing is for certain, Fall goes by fast, and before we know it those vibrant leaves are all in piles on the ground. Here’s a great DIY to preserve those Fall feels a little longer.
We brought a basket along on our morning nature walk one day, and collected leaves of as many colors as we could find!
We pressed our leaves in books for a couple days, but I’ve also heard of people dipping them fresh.
This is a simple, seasonal project that is fun for all ages. Find the materials & instructions below!
A double boiler/crockpot or microwave-proof bowl, wax is not easy to clean so a good suggestion is picking up something cheap to use solely for this purpose (I used an old double boiler I got from Goodwill)
Something to hang the leaves while they dry. Truth be told, the 1st time around we just put them back on the silicone and it smeared a bit. We used clothespins and string the second time.
Start by melting the beeswax in a double boiler over medium-low heat. I used about 1/2 cup of pellets to start. Alternately, you could melt the beeswax on low in a crockpot or in a microwave-safe bowl at 30-second increments. Stir until melted but keep an eye on it.
Once completely melted, move the pot somewhere accessible for the kids to dip their leaves. Let them know they need to be mindful of the hot pot!
Dip both sides of the leaf until lightly coated. Then hang or place on parchment paper to dry. Once completely dry, you can string your leaves into a garland (we used a sewing needle and fishing line) or use them for some other fun fall craft! The beeswax leaves the leaves smelling delicious and the color will last all season long.
Lately, the nights have been loud with katydids and I’ve been grabbing a sweatshirt for my morning walks. Fall is definitely in the air. The geese flocks in our nearby ponds are getting restless, somehow sensing the southward journey. As the days become shorter, instinctively they’ll know it’s time to migrate.
We’re all familiar with the breathtaking sight of a flock of geese winging overhead in that “V” formation but did you know that it is a pretty perfect example of teamwork?
Scroll through for a complete look.
Go out to an area where geese are present. Typically a wide-open space near a body of water. Observe the geese and their behavior. When you see a flock flying in the “V” formation, think of these lessons and the questions you can ask your kids as you watch and observe.
As each goose flaps its wings it creates an “uplift” for the other birds that follow. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock creates 70% less drag than if each bird flew alone.
By working together at a problem or towards a goal we can pool our energies and talents and accomplish more than if we were on our own. Ask your child about an activity they could get done faster when working as a team.
When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow down to help protect it. They stay with the goose until it is able to fly again, or dies. Then together they find another formation, or they catch up with their flock.
It is important to stand by and support one another in both good and difficult times. Ask your child about a time they helped someone else who was having a tough time.
When the goose in the front position gets tired, it rotates all the way to the back of the formation and another goose flies to the front to lead the flock.
It helps when we all share the position of leading. We all have different skills and attributes and taking turns is the best way to highlight every person’s unique qualities. Ask your child what qualities they possess that are unique to them.
A flock of geese can be a noisy bunch. They all honk to encourage the geese ahead of them to keep up their speed. They are constantly supporting one another by their calls.
Everyone can benefit from a little encouragement! It feels good to hear someone say, “nice job” or “keep it up” when we’re working hard at something. Ask your child about a time they felt proud of something they accomplished and if someone recognized their hard work.