The great thing about hiking is there isn’t a lot of special equipment needed, no dues to pay, no uniforms or costumes to buy and no set hours of running to practice during the week. Hiking should be relaxing, fun, and a way to encourage the love of nature in children. Little kids love to walk in the woods! Ask my 3 year old if they’d like to go for a hike and they ‘Yeah!” Ask my 10 year old if they want to hike, and the reply isn’t as always so enthusiastic. What can you do to make kids love to hike.. or at least enjoy it once they are out there in the woods hiking?
- First and foremost… be sure your child has the proper footwear. Nothing ruins even a short hiking trip, like a pair of ill fitting shoes. I’ve learned this lesson when I have decided to let natural consequences come into play and allowed my child to wear her flip flops hiking. Did she learn that flip flops should not be worn hiking? Yes. Did I have to put up with her whining about her sore feet? Yes. It was a battle I know longer have to fight because she knows. But if you start out with shoes your child chooses for hiking, it makes it that much more special. Waterproof boots with good tread that fit without giving them blisters, that they choose… these are all important when making sure they have the proper footwear. No whining.. happy kids, happy parents.
2. Bring Food and water. It seems obvious doesn’t it? But it’s not just something nice to have when hiking with kids.. it’s a necessity. It seems as soon as children get were there is no place to buy they food, they are starving! If they are so consumed with hunger, the chances of them enjoying the hike is slim. Hand them some trail mix or fruit along with their water bottle and they will be more likely to happily hike along, at least until the food runs out.
3. Have a bird or a tree guidebook with you. Hiking is more fun when you are paying attention to your surroundings. Get the kids involved in really observing what is around them in nature. Have them bring a guidebook for something they are interested in.. it could be different kinds of trees, birds, animal prints, flowers, etc. and see how many you can identify as you go. Keep a notebook that you carry on each hike and have them record what they find in it. It will be interesting to read later.
4. Go on a Scavenger Hunt. Before leaving for the hike, work with your child to create a scavenger hunt of things you may find along the trail, being careful not to include items that would harm the flora and fauna in the area. Some ideas could be a: a fossil, a white rock, a pink flower, a dead tree, a salamander, waterfall, animal tracks, etc. and as you and your child finds the item they can mark it off. You could work together or you could make it a competition for the older children.
5. Get them behind the lens. Give your child a camera and let them go crazy with the pictures. Challenge them to zoom in and really take some up close photos of interesting items they find as well as landscape photos . You both will be amazed at how kids see the world and what natural photographers they are. You could work together to upload the photos of each hike and then each year make a photo book with photos and captions detailing the hikes you have taken.
6. Let them choose the hike. Know ahead time what is doable for a hike that day and then choose 2-3 places that could possibly be an option for a hike. Have your child go online with you as you look at the trail descriptions. Teach them to read the maps and let them choose which trail they’d like to go on. Having some choice in the matter is a great buy-in for older children.
7. Get them cool hiking gear. It doesn’t need to be expensive.. it can come from the local secondhand shop. I just picked up some great hiking sticks for myself and my husband at the local resale shop for less then 4 dollars. A backpack, new water bottle, hiking sticks and a hat are all things you could allow your child to pick out. My kids have always felt special getting suited up in their special hiking outfit to go on a trail with us, even if was just a green backpack we called “the survival pack”.
Those are just some ways to ramp up the enjoyment of hiking with those kids who getting bored with tramping through the woods on a Sunday afternoon. Happy kids, happy parents, happy hiking!
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