One of the many joys of parenting is being able to share an interest or skill that you have with your children. However, sometimes a well-intentioned family activity can turn into a frustrating battle of wills.
Maybe you’re like me and you have a very young child and want to share your love of the outdoors with them, with dreams of instilling a passion for wildlife and nature at a young age. Or perhaps your children are older and you would like to get back into the outdoor life and hope to capture their interest as well.
Before embarking on your family dream hike, the best thing you can do is to try and set yourself and your children up for success.
Teach Basic Safety
Obviously exactly how much you tell your children before leaving for a hike will depend on their age, but some things are important for even toddlers to know.
- Make sure your child has a waterproof ID card. This should contain the child’s name, parent names, phone numbers and any allergies.
- ALWAYS stay with their parents or the adults. Let’s face it there are potential dangers when outdoors, everything from poison ivy to bears and protecting your child is much easier if they stay close to you.
- Don’t drink any water unless you brought it with you. Although that crystal clear babbling brook may look enticing, it is likely filled with bacteria or parasites that can cause illness.
- If they get lost or separated from the group, stay put, do not move and blow their emergency whistle. It is also important to let children know that they will not get in trouble if they do get lost, so if they hear someone calling they should not be afraid to answer.
- Teach the importance of cleaning up. To avoid unwanted furry visitors, teach your kids “leave it as you found it”.
- Learn basic first aid. For children who are old enough to learn it, they should know basic first aid and if possible a few basic survival skills, like building a shelter and signal.
Setting Your Expectations
Perhaps the easiest step you can take to ensure that you do not become frustrated or disappointed, is to set your expectations appropriately.
- Know your child’s limits. If your child is toddler or preschool age, be sure to have a carrier available if needed.
- Be wise in choosing which trail you take. Consider the length and difficulty in terms of your youngest hiker.
- Be willing to “explore” and wander around rather than making good time.
- Let the kids set the pace. Kids will enjoy hiking a lot more and will last longer on the trail if they set the pace, provided that they aren’t running.
- Be willing to stop frequently for breaks or even end the hike early.
Tips for Success
Once you have your expectations set, you are on the road to success. But it doesn’t hurt to have a little help along the way.
- Bring lots of SNACKS! This is perhaps the most important tip for success. Kids get tired and hungry easily and often, the best way to keep them fueled up is to keep snacks handy.
- Pack well ahead of time. Although it can be fun for the kids to help put a few things together, it can also be distracting and you don’t want to realize that you forgot something important when you’re on the trail.
- Start out small. When taking your family for day hikes, don’t start out on a 10 mile death march on a 100 degree day. Begin on a shorter hike, close to your car or base-camp and gradually build up to longer, more difficult hikes.
- Wear the appropriate gear. This means planning for a little rain or cold, insects, the sun, and that having an extra dry pair of socks is never a bad thing.
- Be sure to check the weather when planning your hike. This one is common sense. If you are trying to build an interest in the outdoors and hiking in your kids then don’t take them hiking on a day with an 80% chance of thunderstorms.
- If your older kids want to bring their phone or MP3, let them. Although it may seem counterproductive at first, it may be a good compromise to building their interest and getting them outdoors. Maybe they will even use it for educational purposes by downloading apps that help to identify everything from bird calls to insects.
Make Hiking Fun
Kids love adventures and hiking is a great adventure! While hiking can be educational and serve many purposes, it should be fun! Having fun on a hike is more important that accomplishing a goal or even reaching the end of the trail in instilling love and respect for nature.
- Always make it an adventure. Build up the excitement by taking about your “adventure” and the things you may see or experience.
- Help the kids to feel important. Get your kids each their own backpack and let them pack it will fun but useful things like binoculars, a jacket, snack, or first aid kit.
- Choose exciting trails. Hiking to a waterfall, cavern or bald eagle nest is a lot more exciting and just walking in a wooded loop.
- Make it a game or treasure hunt. Play simple games like counting how many animal tracks you find, or spotting thing that start with a certain letter. You can even go geocaching and find some real treasure, or try hiding some of your own.
Sharing your interests and passions in life with your children can be an immensely rewarding experience. The best thing you can do when starting this journey is to set yourself and your kids up for success. You have their best interests at heart and want to help them build their knowledge and experience of the world in a meaningful way. Just remember, having fun together and creating memorable moments is the most important thing you can do with your children. So get out there and have fun adventure-seekers!