How to Trick Your Kids Into Enjoying Hiking
Getting outside and away from electronic stimulus can be a tough sell for children used to their handheld videogames and iPods. Add a healthy walk into the mix and you may have a mutiny on your hands. But, the benefits of outdoor physical activity in nature are too numerous to ignore. Believe it or not, you can actually get kids to love hiking. Pulling off the successful conversion to hiking takes persistence, creativity, and a bit of trickery.
Let the Kids Lead Sometimes
You Can See All Kids of Things
Step One: Pick a Destination
The first thing you need to do is decide where to hike. There are books for every state that list great hikes for kids. The books can be found at the library or online. There are many websites and posts devoted to the art of hiking with kids. When picking a destination, keep three things in mind:
- How Hard is the Hike?
- What is There to See?
- How Far Away is the Hike?
If this is your first hike with kids, pick a short one. I am all about pushing kids’ limits, but if you want to make hiking a regular activity, make the first few short. Depending on the age and physical abilities of your kids, a first hike should be between a ½ mile and 2 miles.
Go somewhere where there is a payoff. Hike to a lighthouse, hike to a hill with a spectacular view, or find a trail with fun things to see. A hike at one of our local parks takes you pass an old abandoned car. My kids nearly lost their minds the first time they “discovered” it.
Driving a long ways before starting the activity will kill any enthusiasm you or your kids have for an outing. Try and keep the drive under an hour, especially the first few times, to maximize your family’s enthusiasm.
Step Two: The Element of Surprise
Never underestimate the power of surprise. Instead of telling your kids you are going to go on a hike, just tell them you have a surprise outing for them. This prevents kids from shouting down your idea before you even get on the hike. Be cautious however, under promise and over deliver. Nothing will ruin the mood faster than the kids expecting Disneyland and getting a 2-mile hike instead.
Bring These Items on Every Hike
- First Aid Kit
- Extra Pair of Socks
- Cell Phone
- Pocket Knife
Have you ever gone hiking with kids?
Step Three: Be Prepared
When you are going to be hiking, even if modern facilities are nearby, you need to be prepared. Bring the essentials on every hike. Make sure you also have things that appeal to each child’s needs and tastes.
Dress everyone, including the adults, in layers. Wear season appropriate clothing. Remember, every layer that has to be taken off has to be carried. Use jackets with pockets that can hold hats and gloves that kids decide to shed. Hiking when you are too cold or too hot is miserable.
Plan activities to do on the trail. Some great activities for children include a photo scavenger hunt, I Spy, Geocaching, and pretending to be pioneers.
Make sure you have a trail map. If you get lost, your kids will never want to go hiking, again. Know where you are going.
Tips to Keep Hikes Engaging
Step Four: Hype It Up, Before and After
If you are working on keeping hiking a surprise, you can still hype up how great hiking is in the weeks or days before you go by telling stories about amazing hikes you have taken. Show pictures of amazing hikes.
After the hike, keep up the PR offensive. Children’s opinions are often malleable. The more fun you had, the more fun you may be able to convince them they had. Again, don’t overdo it. Ask the kids about what they liked the best. Share the photos as soon after the hike as possible. Make sure and praise your kids for what a great job they did hiking, even if they didn’t. Everyone likes to do things they are good at.
Share the Load
The more kids you have the more gear you will need to carry. Let kids, even young kids, bring backpacks and carry some of the gear. This saves your back, and thrills younger children. Don't overload them. Young children shouldn't carry more than a water bottle and their extra sweatshirt. It won't be a lot for them, but distributing a few things across several people will make a big difference in your load.
Step Five: Bribe
If your first hike was less than successful, all is not lost. When trying to get your kids to go hiking try bribery. Bring some small candy. Take the kids out for milkshakes after a hike. Give them some positive inducement. Do what it takes to get everyone out on the trail. Hiking is addicting, but it sometimes takes a while to get hooked.
Keep Moving Down the Trail
Step Six: Rinse and Repeat
The more often you go hiking, the more chances you have to get your kids hooked on it. The more you hike the better you will get at hiking with kids and the better kids will get at hiking. Every hike will generate its own stories and be its own reward. If you are persistent enough hiking with kids you will have closer bonds and great family traditions. In the end the only lasting gift we can give our children is our time.
© 2013 Jason McBride