Hiking With Children
Way Better Than Cartoons!
It's Never Too Early
If you have children and you love the outdoors, you will surely want to teach your kids to love the outdoors, too. That can begin with taking your kids hiking at a very early age - even if it’s just for very short hikes in nearby nature parks. Hiking can be an adventure for kids at each stage of development. By focusing on different aspects of the fun, you can help your kids fall in love with hiking and establish a lifelong habit of hiking for health.
Of course, at every stage, you must be practical. Right from the start, make sure hiking with kids is comfortable and fun. Before setting out, double-check to be sure that everyone in your group is comfortably dressed and has good hiking shoes or boots and effective sunglasses. In cooler weather, be sure everyone brings a jacket, hat and gloves or mittens.
Always bring snacks, water, formula, juice, whatever you need to be sure nobody feels a burning urge to rush home and get something to eat or drink. When you are taking a little baby on short strolls in nature, you can bring a small cooler if you use a running stroller that has a carry sling under the seat. In any event, you can carry a soft, insulated lunch kit or backpack to keep drinks and snacks cool.
Be sure to take healthy snacks and drinks to avoid “crash and burn “ sugar rushes! Of course, be sure not to litter. Bring food and drink wrappings out of the woods with you and dispose of them properly.
Hiking with Baby
Start taking your kids hiking early! Even newborns and infants can enjoy the great outdoors - weather permitting. As soon as you are able to go for short walks after having your baby, go for a little hike! Use that baby sling, running stroller or whatever device you have chosen to take your baby along, and take your baby along! Go to the nearest natural park and take a little walk on the walking trails. Show your baby leaves and flowers, butterflies and trees.
Talk to your baby all the time. Point out the natural beauty all around. Be enthusiastic. Your baby will love the sound of your happy voice. Little babies are very impressionable, and they believe everything you say! Now is the time to instill a love of hiking!
Toddlers Like Short Hikes with Games & Songs
As a full-fledged toddler, your baby will begin to enjoy playing with friends, so make hiking even more fun by inviting friends along. You may want to just invite one little friend and do all the supervising yourself, or invite another parent and little one or another family to join you.
This kind of multi-family hiking trip is a great opportunity to sing songs, play simple games and introduce the idea of creating collections of little things like fallen leaves or the occasional pebble. Don’t gather non-renewable items or collect huge amounts of anything. Little ones can’t hike fast or far, so focus on interaction with each other and enjoying the details of nature.
Take plenty of breaks and be sure to talk about all the wonderful things you see. Bring a nature book and identify birds, plants, bugs, and more. Even if your toddler isn’t talking much yet, he or she will listen to you and understand that you are doing something that makes you happy and fills you with wonder.
When you show your child how much fun it is for people of all ages to hike together and enjoy the outdoors, you set an example that instills the idea that hiking is fun and something that people can enjoy doing for life.
Pre-Schoolers & Grade-Schoolers Like to Plan
As your toddler moves into pre-school and early school years, you will surely want to take time to read aloud a little bit every day. When you do, be sure to read about outdoor adventures. Read stories about hiking with kids and other outdoor and family adventures. Look at picture books of beautiful hiking places. Let your child know that there are many wonderful national parks to explore and lots of fabulous hiking destinations all over the world.
Bring home brochures or look up information online and let your child choose the aspects of the park s/he wants to explore. Create a treasure map together of all the things you want to see, do and find on your next hike. Begin taking your kids hiking farther and farther afield. Carry binoculars, compass and other tools of the trade. Planning and outfitting helps hiking become a real adventure for kids.
Hiking is one sport that is always open to flexible planning. Understand that your child’s plans for the hiking trip may be unrealistic. Don’t quash his or her enthusiasm. Allow your child to create a hiking plan. If it is wildly unrealistic, you create a “Plan B”, but keep it to yourself! When you arrive at your hiking destination, review your plans and be willing and able to regroup.
Remember that hiking is not a contest and doesn’t have to be goal driven. Hiking with children is for fun, enjoyment and relaxation, so don’t put pressure on your child by insisting on reaching a specific goal or participating in a specific activity. Set objectives, but be flexible. If you are unable to attain your goal, talk about why and think of what you might do next time to have a more successful outing.
Think About Scouting
By this time, your child should be a real hiking enthusiast, even if s/he is only 5 or 6 years old! Begin thinking about having your child join a scouting group, and become involved yourself. Scouting is a great adventure for kids and a fine way for them to get formal, practical, up-to-date training about spending time in the great outdoors.
If you like hiking with kids, scouting is an activity both you and your child will surely enjoy. You’ll learn a lot and make lots of friends who share your love of hiking. Scouting is an activity your child may choose to pursue throughout his or her pre-teen and teen years. Of course, s/he may also follow your example and remain involved in scouting as an adult.
Pre-Teens & Teens May Be Too Cool for Hiking!
As much as you may have bonded in a lifetime of taking your kids hiking, as a pre-teen or teenager, your child may pull away from you, and this may mean pulling away from hiking somewhat. If you want your child to love hiking, it is important that you continue to go hiking, even if your child seems to want to do other things. Of course, don’t force your child to go hiking, just schedule a weekly or bi-weekly short hike to explore nearby parks regularly and let your child know s/he is always welcome to come and to bring a friend.
It may be necessary to ramp up the excitement a bit for pre-teens and teens, who may enjoy more challenge when hiking. Boys, especially, may appreciate the challenge of cross country skiing or rock scaling or other more adventurous extensions of hiking. Girls and boys may enjoy the added challenge of mountain hiking and biking.
Hiking Can Become a Healthy Lifetime Habit
Into the teen years, and even after your kids have grown up and moved away, hiking for health is an activity your entire family can enjoy as an annual tradition. Schedule a big family hiking trip once a year. For teens, make this a non-optional family vacation. After all, you don’t want them staying home alone for an extended period of time while you go on a hiking trip!
Make a point of getting away from it all (including computer games and MTV) for at least a long weekend, if not 2-3 weeks. Be sure that you have excellent camping gear or book a cabin or other comfortable accommodation for these extended hiking adventures. Nothing will spoil your family fun more quickly or more effectively than uncomfortable living arrangements.
Even though your teen may complain at first, if you have laid good groundwork in helping him or her learn to love nature and hiking s/he is sure to reconnect with those feelings. Spending time taking your kids hiking, without distraction, will give your family a chance to bond with each other and with nature.
Hiking With Kids Helps Build the Future
When you share a love of hiking with your child starting in infanthood, you instill a lifelong love of nature. You also introduce an activity that you can continue to enjoy throughout your life and that your child will carry into the future.
When your child is an adult, you can still enjoy hiking together. Long after you are gone, your adult-child will fondly remember the times you spent together in nature and is sure to pass that love of nature on to his or her children.
Additionally, a child who grows up loving nature will become an adult who will defend nature. Hiking with your child ensures that your child will develop a love of hiking and the outdoors. It is a step toward protecting the earth and assuring that there will still be nature to enjoy in the future.