Finding joy in the outdoors since 1988
I have two young sons (5 and 3) and they love the outdoors. They can be outside tearing each other to shreds in the backyard or scoping for antler sheds in the cold early spring and be perfectly content. There were a few learning bumps I had to endure along the way to transitioning my little ones to traversing the hike.
Those bumps were well worth introducing my passion to my kids.
Many kids don't get any real outdoor exposure at all. Taking the first steps to show them how wonderful the adventure of the hike is can be a critical learning point in their lives... and if you're at this page then you know you want to take the next steps with them. Here's what I've learned and what you may benefit from:
Age really isn't that big of a deal
I really didn't take them on a "real" hike until they were about 3 or so. I wish I would have started them earlier. Little bodies and legs just don't have the stamina to last very long so choose accordingly. A slow walk through a 1/4 mile level trek might be all the toddler can really handle on their own.
Instead of knowing their limits it might be best to start thinking of your own. How far can you carry your kid? I took them on the Abram's Falls hike in Cade's Cove TN and found this out. I had to carry my kids for miles. They were exhausted and obviously so was I.
Age doesn't matter but be prepared to carry. Some make their kids hike through exhaustion I agree to a point. I make them hike until I know in that dad way that they really are tired. Take breaks and keep it fun don't drill sergeant you kids into equating hiking with misery. It will come; be patient.
You can save the day with snacks.
Bring plenty of water and snacks on your travels. Little kids seem to mow down granola bars like no other while on the trail. If you come up empty handed in the snack department they won't just drop it. Bring twice as much as you think you need.
Look for the really scenic landscapes.
Kids like the best stuff. Most won't appreciate the finer details of the ecosystem, they want the water falls, mountains, animals, and all. Look for a trail that makes those big moments happen. For me this looks like creek crossings, evening times to increase the chance of seeing a grazing deer, or hiking along side rivers. Kids love the excitement of something other than just trees.
Build the hike length in succession.
Make them look forward to completing the hike by bribing them with a stop to that ice cream place on the way home. My kids get treated to a pop at the gas station or even a piece of candy they pick out. I know it's not good for them, but it's a sacrifice to make to avoid couch potato syndrome for my kids.
Hike with friends.
Their friends. Kids can push a lot further when it comes to hiking with others their age. Cousins, friends kids, kids from church, etc. Allow them all to hike together and associate fun with friends and hiking. My kids fight a lot less with each other and love to lead the pack on the hikes with buddies along.
Keep the natural artifacts.
Every kid love to find treasures along the path. Usually my oldest son finds a stick that he must have. I have his favorite in the garage right now. Kids like to take things home with them when they go. Let them grab that pretty colored rock or weird looking leaf and bring it home with them. They love this stuff and it just piles onto the fun of hiking.
Give them their own gear.
Not the expensive boots they'll outgrow in a year or the 150 dollar breathable jacket... the cheaper stuff they can use along the way. I have an old monocular my kids love to look through and check things out. My youngest son carries a spiderman butterfly net around that he attempts to catch every flying insect on the path with. The point is make a little special trip next time you're at the store and let them grab one or two pieces of cheap gear they can call their own.
Take pictures to show off.
Kids love pictures of themselves. It helps them remember the trip in a good way. Them and you as well. I keep some of those hiking pictures as my background on my macbook to remind me of what it's all about. hang them up in the house and show them off a little. Build up their hikes to others to make their efforts feel appreciated, because they are.
Did WF get this one right?
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