From our archive: “Basler You Should Know” – Melinda Taylor Schoutens.
Melinda is a long time supporter of the BCT. She is also the co-author of three “Fresh Air Kids Switzerland” books. “52 Inspiring hikes that will make kids and parents happy“, “My book of discoveries“, and “Hikes to Huts“.
Azura: Hi Melinda. Thank you for agreeing to chat with the BCT.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Melinda: What an easy yet challenging question.
So, I was born in the USA and frequently moved with my family as a child. Relocating shaped me into the person I am today and made my husband and my move to Basel more manageable. Currently, I am an educator, writer and curriculum designer. I love the process of learning and hope to spark the same curiosity in my children and students. Reading is something I enjoy, and I make it a priority to do this with my children.
At the same time, I need to sweat to feel like myself and can thus easily spend long periods in the mountains, hiking and discovering new places. One day, I would love to live in the mountains.
How was your childhood? Have you always been an outdoors person?
Melinda: I often reflect on my childhood with absolute wonder. My family moved frequently, but I spent my formative years in California. Those years were utter bliss. I met my best friend in a swimming pool at seven years of age, and we remain close to this day. I spent my days exploring, swimming, playing tennis and travelling. My childhood was “free-range” in every sense of the word, and I loved it. I feel so fortunate to have had that life, and it still fills me with joy to this day.
Can you tell us something about your family?
Melinda: In my freshman year of college, I met Robert, my husband, when I held a door open for him. Eighteen years later, we still talk about that chance encounter. We moved to Basel in 2007 and started our family when our son arrived in December of 2008. Our daughter appeared in 2011, and now, we feel most at home in Basel.
Our family loves to travel, and we look forward to the annual hiking season in Switzerland. Indeed, our children have become quite the hikers over the years. They now enjoy more advanced hikes that lead to Schweizer Alpen-Club (SAC) huts and hotels. We are incredibly proud of them for the kilometres they cover each year.
That’s amazing. How do you encourage your children to be enthusiastic about exploring nature?
Melinda: Great question.
Robert and I have always enjoyed spending time in nature. And we didn’t want our love of hiking to cease just because we had children. So, I continued to hike throughout my pregnancies and when our children were born. We strapped them onto our backs. Now, all these years later, hiking feels like an extension of our lives. I would feel lost without a connection to the natural world.
Having said all of that, I would be lying if I told you each hike was utter bliss. Now that our two children are older, we find it harder to get out the door. However, they are thrilled once we are outside, however, and we are all the better for the time spent.
We bring treats on our walks, and we try to incorporate activities to keep the children engaged. Indeed, despite whimpers and complaints, some of my favourite moments as a family have been time spent exploring outside. Whether it be a photo challenge, visiting a castle, completing a scavenger hunt or stopping by a farm to get a closer look at the animals.
What led you and Robert to write your books?
Melinda: A few things inspired our books.
Firstly, we love to hike, and Switzerland is the perfect place to explore.
Also, when we moved here, we tried to figure out how to wander as a family and where to go. We were very new to the hiking world, and this activity with children felt overwhelming. We found some incredible excursions and some real duds. One day we found ourselves completing a long walk through a vineyard. Afterwards, I asked my husband, “What if we wrote a book about hiking for families?”
Furthermore, we want to encourage families to spend more time in nature. So that they can take advantage of everything that Switzerland has to offer, from lakes to theme trails to mountain huts, we believe that we can do this through an easy to read and family-friendly guide.
Our wish was to enable families to find the perfect walk or overnight destination from our first book. Quickly, without much hassle or having to research their trip. We have personally hiked each of our recommended trails, so you know they are doable with children.
We share practical activities and ideas to keep children engaged in our second book, “Fresh Air Kids – My Book of Discoveries“.
Lastly, I always had a secret dream to write a book, and I am all about turning dreams into reality.
Which one is your favourite of the hikes listed in the first book?
Melinda: That is a tricky question.
I love so many hikes in our first book for different reasons. Some of the walks are so kid-friendly that you hardly notice you are hiking because there is much to entertain the children. Lenzerheide is a fabulous example of that, and we list two theme trails in our book that are fun for children of all ages.
Lastly, a local hike that is manageable and fun for families is the Sculpture Trail in Reinach, Baselland. I find the sculptures beautifully crafted, and it is a great place to grill as a family on a relaxing Sunday afternoon.
Do unexpected events ever occur during your hikes?
Each time we venture out into nature, we experience something incredible, educational, beautiful or even sad.
For example, we hiked through an organic farm in Münchenstein (Baselland) and stopped to admire the calves. The farmer kindly spoke to us for about 20 minutes, answering our questions. He explained farm life, raising animals, and being “Bio”. We were enlightened and viewed the place with fresh eyes. We were grateful for the farmer’s time and willingness to share his experiences with us.
How was your 2020? Did you develop a pandemic activity?
Melinda: 2020 was both a turbulent and an educational year.
Robert and I created a walking routine each morning, and our family retreated to nature whenever possible.
When fear and anxiety set in, we found hope and renewal outdoors. We heard the birds sing and watched the flowers bloom. They reminded us that life continues despite difficult times. We felt beyond fortunate and grateful to call Switzerland home when we found ourselves able to hike in the Alps again.
Do you have any favourite items to recommend – like books, programs, podcasts etc.?
Melinda: Of course I do.
I believe part of why I feel compelled to spend so much time with my family outside is because of the book “Last Child in the Woods” (by Richard Louv). I read it when my son was still a baby. That book influenced me greatly.
Podcasts, oh, I am a podcast junkie.
While there are loads of podcasts suitable for youngsters, the one I adored when my children were little was “Chompers“. They would grab their toothbrushes each night and listen to a three-minute episode. The episodes are educational and fun, and they inspire the kids to clean their teeth thoroughly. This podcast is a win for parents and kids.
Here is a question I’ve been waiting to ask. My family is reluctant to leave our home, especially during winter. What advice can you give me to encourage them to come out and play?
Melinda: First of all, have the right gear.
I cannot overemphasise how important it is to dress appropriately, especially in winter. Wear layers and carry a backpack large enough to house layers you might shed while hiking.
Secondly, pack a thermos full of hot chocolate or a favourite tea to enjoy while you are on the trail.
Remember, the outing doesn’t have to be an all-day excursion. Consider yourself successful if you spend some quality time outdoors. Remember quality over quantity always during the winter months. Then, make your hikes a bit shorter during this time of the year.
Finally, find the tiny joys while outside. Spot frozen leaves, watch the snowflakes fall on dark coloured jackets and allow yourself to be amazed at how perfect each flake truly is. Build a snowman, bring a sledge, and pretend you are walking through a winter wonderland.
Melinda, thank you so much for supporting the BCT and taking the time and effort to answer these questions.
How can our readers find you on the web or social media?
Melinda: Thank you for asking me to participate in the interview.
You can follow our adventures on our Instagram account – @fresh_air_kids.
We also try to maintain a website called “Fresh Air Kids“.
You can find our English, German, or French books from Helvetiq (online) or all major bookstores in Switzerland. Our brand-new book, “Fresh Air Kids – Hikes to Huts“, is scheduled to come out in spring this year (2021).
This article appeared in Parenting’s February 2021 issue. We have edited this piece to meet the requirements of this blog.
The exchange is between Melinda Taylor-Schoutens and Azura Rubio, BCT’s Blog/Parenting Lead Editor.