Even if you’re not the most outdoorsy parent, given the wealth of research touting nature’s positive effects on kids, you’d probably like for your kid to spend more time outside. Taking your kids hiking is a great way to get them into nature, spend time as a family, and help everyone disconnect from screens.
But exploring the great outdoors often falls somewhere well shy of great when you have a reluctant kid in tow. So how do you get your children onboard? Check out these three tips to make the next hike with your kids less of a struggle and more of a walk in the woods.
Managing expectations applies to everyone involved in the hike. You and any other adult embarking on this hike need to forget every hike you’ve ever taken where there wasn’t a small person involved. Kid friendly hikes only loosely resemble those past jaunts in the woods.
You need to expect to move at a glacial speed, to stop more often than seems humanly possible, and for a wide range of emotions to be on display (from all parties). Be open to deviations from the plan. If your kid spots an amazing ravine that they need to drive their monster truck down, over and over, allow for that detour. Once you’ve severely dialed down your expectations, you’ll be more able to access your patience and appreciate the wonder of a child who stops to examine every bug along the way.
You also need to manage the expectations of your children. Give your kids a thorough rundown of how the hike will go- how long you think it will take, what kind of snacks are available, etc. Prepare your child for any landmarks or tough spots (“we’ll pass over a small stream and then have one big hill to climb, but after that, we’ll come to a big meadow with wildflowers where you can run around for a bit.”). When your kid is prepared, they will also be better able to access their patience and wonder.
Plan Kid Friendly Hikes
Speaking of managing expectations- the first rule to planning a kid friendly hike is to be realistic with how far your child can and will really walk. Starting off with too long or difficult of a hike will dampen the chances that your kid will be an enthusiastic participant in your next adventure. But planning a kid friendly hike entails more than just curtailing your mileage.
As an adult, you can see the value and beauty of spending a day walking amongst the trees. Walking for walking’s sake is something that adults do all the time. But your kid is probably going to need a little more incentive. Look for a route with something your kid will enjoy along the way. Water is always a hit with kiddos. Plan your hike to go past a waterfall or a pond where you both can spend some time skipping rocks. Even a small stream is fun to wade into on a hot summer’s day. If water isn’t on the menu, just look for some point of interest along the trail– boulders to climb on, a fire tower to scale, the remnants of an old building to explore.
Pack with Your Kid in Mind
Once again, clear your mind of hikes in your pre-child era. A bottle of water and your car keys are not going to cut it. Your best chance of success when kids hiking is to pack with every contingency in mind. Think about what could possibly derail your child. You know your family best, but here are a few items that might help:
- Snacks. So many snacks. Not to condone bribery but a gummy bear every 10 minutes does wonders to keep a tired kid moving.
- Appropriate clothing. Just like adults, when kids have the right gear for the conditions, they will be happier hikers. Bring rain gear and extra layers if you’re in an environment where you might get wet or cold. Bring the right footwear- kids hiking shoes might be needed for a rocky steep trail. Bring a hat if you’ll be hiking in the sun.
- Extra clothes. If your kid absolutely CANNOT function with wet socks and shoes, pack an extra pair for after the puddle that they’ll inevitably jump in.
- Toys. Look, kids love toys, and bringing along a few cars to roll down boulders or a favorite action figure to play hide and seek with isn’t going to detract from their nature experience. In fact, bringing some play into the outdoors may help your kid figure out a fun way to play outside in the future.
- First aid kit. This one is self-explanatory, but it’s always a good idea to have a few fun bandaids ready for any scrapes or bumps.
Taking Kids Hiking is Worth the Effort
Hiking with kids is not the same as hiking on your own, but comes with its own rewards. Although it may be a challenge, if you manage everyone’s expectations, plan a kid-friendly hike and pack with your kid in mind, you can set your child up for a fun and successful adventure.