Wednesday, October 24, 2018

tips for hiking with kids in the fall

When I married my husband three years ago I became an instant full time stepmom of three. I went from being a single woman who had a varied agenda of outdoor activities to a “mom” of kids that for the most part enjoy staying indoors. In every sense, becoming a stepmom was quite an adjustment. Still is. But for me one of the biggest ones was having to share my “me” outdoor time to a “we”. I was so used to doing things on my own that I was jealous of my time. But once I got over that, I was able to convince one of my stepsons (12 yrs old) to come hike with me since he was the most outdoorsy. The others wanted no part in this. Then the youngest stepson decided he wanted to give it a try. Let’s just say he slept really good that night. Why am I telling you this? Because these few experiences immediately provided some lessons learned about hiking with kids—out topic today. What did I learn?
Expectation Management. Key to an enjoyable hike with kids is adjusting your expectations as to what you want accomplished. Kids will get tired quicker than an adult, so let them set the pace and make a reasonable number of stops. Go into this thinking as an introductory period; kids will not want to go hiking with you again, if you have a draconian attitude about it. Do not focus on "reaching the summit" but rather focus a destination. Is there an opening with great views? A river where they can swim or play under supervision? For kids it is about making it fun. Adjust your expectations to ensuring they have fun.
Planning and Equipment. Kids love feeling like grown ups and you can help making them feel as such by involving them in the planning of the hike. Talk to them about the trails, what is available for them to see. They like to feel involved, especially if it is a family trip. Kids also love shiny equipment (at least my stepsons do) so maybe it is time to graduate them to new equipment like a camel-back instead of a water bottle-- these were a hit in our house.
Be prepared. From a bag to store extra layers (see my post on this topic-- it also applies to kids), to plenty of fluids and snacks, be prepared. One thing that surprised me about kids is how much they can eat especially in outing. They become snack-eating machines. Focus on snacks that provide energy and hydration-- granola bars, fruits, electrolyte gummies, etc. If the kids are old enough, make sure they carry their own layers, snacks and water since you never know what can happen. Which brings me to my next point.
Safety. Safety is paramount in any situation but especially in outdoor activities like hiking. Kids can get distracted by a myriad of things and in a worst case scenario, they can get separated from the group. It is important to:
  • Talk to them about what to do if we get separated and they need to find me. I always make the boys carry a whistle and a flashlight just in case, when we hike. Whether you put them in their bar, reservoir pocket or attach them to their clothing, just make sure they carry them.
  • Make sure to use sunscreen. Even in fall and winter, sunburns can happen.
  • Make sure you point out features that stand out. Terrain association is a great skill to learn and can help the kiddos identified where they are if they get lost.
  • No "horse-playing". Kids love to horse play, and hiking is definitely not the time to do it. Kids can trip and fall, or worse. Imparting a sense of being careful while still having fun will ensure a great hike.
Teaching Moments. My favorite thing about hiking with kids is the teachable moments when I can impart my love for nature and the outdoors. It is during those times that the lessons about the importance of conservation can be made more clear while surrounded by nature. Other topics you can address:
  • Map reading. Just like terrain association is important, so is map reading. This is quickly becoming a lost art and it should not. Knowing how to read a map is a key survival skill whether in the wilderness or an urban terrain. You can start with a trail map and let the kids be the guides (of course, assist as needed). Also, give them a compass. Never underestimate the power of this little gadget. it will provide, not only a teaching moment, but lots of fun. Nothing says "explorer" quite like a compass.
  • Leave No Trace Behind.
  • Identifying plants and critters you come across, and conversely teaching about what plants and critters not to touch and leave alone.
  • Respecting nature and not defacing bluffs or other features.
  • Teach about the names of mountains, peaks, rivers, etc. If you know the stories behind the names, a quick history lesson may be called for. The outdoors is a great classroom. Make use of it!
But above all have fun! This is a unique and great opportunity to bond with the kids and get them outside. It is also a great opportunity for them see the world from a different perspective. As adults it is important to ensure kids grow up as well-rounded individuals, and introducing them to the outdoors, is a great way to help them. And if we are lucky, they will take one look and fall in love with it. And the world would be a better place for it! Happy trails!

1 comment:

  1. My daughter likes to camp and to hike. The camping trip with Blake when he was 18 months old did not go well and they have decided to wait a while. Michelle