You are a parent and your kids have come to “that” age where you think it is fun to share your love for nature. Here is a guide every parent must have for hiking with kids. Trust us, it is a life, time, fun saver!
1. Sell it out!
Believe it or not, your kids may be taught in school about nature and birds and bees, but that is far from “craving” a hiking. Your kids are not… well… they are not you! They don’t have your experiences in nature, they (maybe) love their tablet a bit more and they don’t think that “a walk in nature makes you peace and calm”. Actually, these are your “things” to solve as an adult. So, you need to “sell” them this amazing experience.
2. Plan end first
Remember yourself after a long hiking in nature? Well, you can recall the tiredness and your soar feet. Imagine how your young ones will feel. Check your time-frame, distance and calculate the activities and pace along the route. If it is your first time, do not plan for many hours of hiking. Better safe than sorry. Speaking of safety, make sure you have a complete pharmacy and first aids package with you, for mosquito bites, poison plants and more. Plan for small “disasters”. It may not happen. Make sure you have a reasonable backpack size. You will end up carrying most things anyway.
Kids can carry some but usually it is some extra clothing and their water/snacks. Let them carry things to understand responsibility, yet bring extra water since kids do not understand how to calculate water consumption. They just drink it, even for fun.
3. Fuel the team
Kids burn energy faster than adults. You need to keep the “engines running” otherwise you will start hearing the well known nagging of “mom/dad I am hungry”. Yes, they will ask for such along your hiking, so have some (preferably) healthy snacks with you. It is good (as with adults) to have kids having some food prior starting the hiking path. This way they will have the energy to burn along the way. Keep in mind that a route is usually a back and forth one (if someone is not picking you up at the end). So, calculate accordingly for food and water.
Make sure your snacks/food are not of the “melting” kind, since after a few hours it will get messy.
4. Proper attire
The base rule is: proper shoes. You can work around all other clothing but that is the crucial factor, unless you plan to walk on flat asphalt road. Proper shoes means increased safety in dirt roads, going uphill or downhill. Make sure your kids break into their shoes by wearing them a couple of times/days prior the hiking day. This will help the hiking shoes become softer and the chance for blisters will be reduced. You don’t want your kid with blisters (or at least too many of them) trying to walk back. Apart from your kid, you too need to have the proper shoes.
You will need a hat, sunblock and logically sunglasses for any day with sunshine. Hat is needed when it is cloudy too as it may rain. Of course special technical trousers, shirts, etc are fine, yet up to your available budget.
5. Plan for fun
Remember you are doing all this because you find it enjoying and funny. You want to have fun. Your kids have a variety of things they consider fun or not. Usually all kids love 2 things: adventure and mysteries. Plan this hiking trip in such a manner where kids will get involved investigating, uncovering and exploring things. If you’ve done the same hiking route (and its best to have when with kids) before, then recall some point where something special is there. Perhaps a hidden lake or a weird huge tree, or a rock in the form of a giant frog.
Make a paper with elements to discover while hiking. For example: To find a leaf that is bigger than their foot. To find a stick to use a magic wind or to fight dragons. The stick can be from the “magic tree” at the center of the forest. It can be a magic wand too! They will make pictures into their minds. Prepare them accordingly for such.
Choose a route where a beautiful place is at the end. The whole case is to have fun and imprint great memories in their head. Put some kind of “controlled danger” in your schedule. Perhaps a wooden bridge needs to be crossed, towards the path where fairies live!
6. Nominate rotating leaders
You are the leader but your young explorers will want to jump to observe what they find as weird or interesting along the route. Let them have fun and teach them responsibility by shifting leadership around, while you have (of course) your eye on them. The leader can “carry the leader stick”. The leader shows the way, while reading the map with you. It is a great way for kids to experience that. In their mind it is huge to be the leader in an adventure.
Each kid can have a role to shift through it. For example, apart from the leader, the other can be the “tracker”.
Sometimes is good to even invite a friend of your kids to come along. They will both have fun together as, you know… you are a “grown-up”.
7. Learn along
Get prepared and bring some notes or a book about the nature and geography of your hiking area. Learn about the different plants and their value for people and the ecosystem. Do it in an interesting way. Narrate like in movies with a mysterious voice, like talking about marvels and magic.
If there are footprints from small animals and you can track them, use your book to find out the animal they belong to and discuss about this animal.
You don’t need to make a “class” out of your hiking trip, since it will get boooooring but a few interesting “magical” facts here and there will spice things up.
And of course all these will help to avoid the “kids boredom syndrome” which many times comes very fast when things are not evolving fast around them.
Hiking through a forest is usually a serene experience. Yes, it is for you. Kids see that differently.
8. The “toilet”
You will need to have “bathroom” breaks. Frequent ones maybe. Make sure you have a set of wet wipes with you. They are useful to clean up too after some snacks or after playing with the mud. Better to have some alcohol based ones and some regulars. The first are for cleaning up after food and mud. The latter for… bathroom. Teach your kids responsibility and what caring for environment means, by not littering around.
9. Know when to stop
The concepts of “taking that extra mile” and “overcome your limits” are nice when read in a book or heard in movies but you have your kids with you. This means a different way of thinking and a different level of stamina. Yes, they are maybe whirling around inside your house for hours, but set them walking for a couple of hours and they may end up flat on the ground. You don’t want to carry them back in your hands and you don’t want them to nag. You all want to have fun. Accept the limits of everyone in the team.
10. Take pictures
Make sure you take pictures of things and of moments. Your kids will like to show off their adventure to other kids. You will want to remember a place or “that time when Jimmy and Mary stepped on a raccoon’s poop and Mary screamed”!
Encourage your kids (and yourself) to stand in funny poses or hug a tree. Nature is an excellent school for adults and kids and it is good to make them feel comfortable with different elements of it.
They will get full with mud. Accept it and take pictures and keep a 2nd pair of shoes in your car, along with some extra clothes. For kids, dirt, is not dirt but a nice feeling of adventure. Nature is full of dirt and if you don’t get some on you then how on earth did you had any fun!
To sum it up, Heroes Get Dirty. Period.
Enjoy hiking with kids as they grow older. As kids they can turn the whole thing around and teach you a couple of lessons on how to have fun during hiking!
Cheers and have fun.