You’ve always enjoyed hiking, solo or with your partner. But now that there’s another addition to the family, have you started wondering how to foster that same love of hiking in your child? Hiking with kids does come with its own challenges, but it’s also the perfect way to build a stronger family!
Here at The Adventure Junkies, we understand how eager you must be to get out on the trails with your children and to show them the beauty of nature. To help make that transition as easy as possible for you, we’ve identified these five great tips for hiking with kids!
1. THE JOURNEY, NOT THE DESTINATION
As adults, we often plan our hiking adventures with the destination in mind — a beautiful lake, a mountain top with a view, or perhaps a cascading waterfall? Yet for a child, the world presents new wonders at every turn.
As parents and guardians, hiking provides us with a marvelous opportunity to excite, stimulate and teach our children about the beauty of nature. We can show them how we as humans rely so much on the outdoors for our very survival.
But if all we ever focus on is the destination, then chances are our children are going to quickly become bored and distracted. This could possibly even create lasting negative memories that may discourage them from hiking later in their lives.
At every step along the way, it is your challenge to make hiking fun!
There are so many ways to do this. To get you started, you might want to think about playing games while you hike.
Who can copy the bird whistles you hear echoing through the forest? Design a scavenger hunt for the children to complete while hiking. Eye spy? Geocaching? There are so many ways to not only pass the time but to also build a deep love and appreciation of the outdoors!
Rest breaks are also critical. While they are great opportunities for a drink and maybe a small snack, they also break up the potential monotony of a hike. They can provide an exciting opportunity for your child to explore off the trail under your supervision as well.
How many breaks you need is not an exact science but by keeping an eye on your child’s attention levels and state of mind, you can time them perfectly and keep their energy levels high.
When you are on the move, don’t push the pace too hard. Let your child dictate the speed at which you travel. By pushing too hard, you will only build resentment and bring on premature fatigue. The chances are also good that they won’t want to try this trip again!
2. KNOW THE TRAIL
You may not be a botanist or zoologist but to your child, you’re an expert on everything! Why not enhance that reputation while also providing a “hands on” education by doing some research before you leave your home?
All it takes is 30 minutes on the Internet and you’ll be bursting with facts that can be drip-fed throughout the hike!
Think about the plants and trees that are common in your part of the world and be prepared to point them out. Share these info with fun facts your children might not know.
What types of native animals are you likely to encounter? Birds and lizards are always common, and your child will have a ball trying to spot them along the way.
The indigenous inhabitants of the region are often a fount of knowledge when it comes to the outdoors, with their intimate working knowledge of the land and many stories that have evolved over the centuries. Perhaps, you can pick one or two short stories to tell along the way or during a rest break.
While having fun is critical, knowing the trail is also about staying safe. Children are full of energy, but there are only so many steep hills or large boulders that they can traverse before it all gets a bit too much and fatigue starts to set in.
Don’t choose a super tough hike for your first time on the trail together. Keep your route short, safe and as flat as possible!
3. MAKE THEM FEEL IMPORTANT
Just like adults, children love it when they feel like they are a part of the team and that others are benefiting from their leadership. At the same time, you can also be teaching them about how to hike safely and how they can help the rest of the group stay safe.
The lead hiker plays an important role when on the trail. They are in charge of ensuring that the group stays on the right trail, scanning ahead for potential unsafe situations such as fallen trees or rocks and keeping an eye out for animals.
If there are many children in the group, then you may want to consider rotating the lead hiking role so that everyone gets a chance to learn and feel trusted. The older your children, the greater the responsibility they can bear.
While they are young, you may ask them to always stay within sight of an adult. But as they grow and become more independent, it is important that you relax the rules and allow them to scout further ahead, yet ensuring that they never proceed beyond a fork in the trail or a hiking sign for example.
4. BE PREPARED
Just as you would for your own “adult” hikes, it is extremely important that you are prepared for any eventuality on the trail.
Lots of water, snacks, a first aid kit, plenty of sunscreen, insect repellent, hats to protect against the sun, safety whistles and perhaps even a spray bottle to keep cool in the middle of summer are all important items and will help make the hike as enjoyable as possible.
As we all know, muddy puddles are like magnets to small children. So, you may also want to consider packing a few pairs of clean, dry socks in your bag. If their feet get wet, you can guarantee that the tears won’t be far behind!
For very young children, you might want to do some research about baby carriers where the child can sit on mom or dad’s back while they sleep or watch the world from up on high. If you do, it’s worth familiarizing your child with the pack at home before the hike so that they are ready and excited to climb inside!
As with any hike, taking care of your waste is always a priority. With very young children, this may mean packing extra nappies and additional rubbish bags for waste storage.
5. PRAISE AND REWARD
We love hiking, and we want to do everything possible to instill that same love to our children.
A word of congratulations or acknowledgement of a big effort will do wonders at lifting spirits and fostering fantastic team spirit. As the day progresses, do your utmost to provide relevant and meaningful praise to every single child in your group at every opportunity.
A positive, constructive environment will not only make them feel great about themselves and build their self-confidence. You’ll also find your children far more open to the idea of longer hikes as they grow and mature.