Are you an avid hiker and a traveller and now that you have started your own family, your passion is on a back burner waiting to be unleashed as soon as your offspring starts to walk? Here I offer you tried and tested tips and strategies how to speed up the process and train your kids to become hikers from an early age.
Take them hiking in a baby carrier
If you cannot live without being in nature and walking, you can take your baby hiking with you in a baby carrier. From 7-8 months, a baby carrier scarf or Baby Bjorn-style carrier is ideal, because a baby is still small and is best kept closest to the body. For 1-3-year-olds, a toddler carrier that looks like a larger backpack is the best option. Make sure your child is dressed properly. Way too often I see parents dressed nice and warm in jackets and good boots and their baby only in a sweatshirt and leggings with their bare calves exposed and feet dangling in thin socks. If you dress warm, your child should be dressed warm. If you go out in shorts and t-shirt, your toddler can, too. Under-dressing or overdressing is never a good idea.
Start at an early age
When your child is two or so, start the hiker training with long walks around the neighbourhood. As they grow and walk well, speed up a bit and increase the distance. Venture into nearby nature parks and conservation areas for a change of environment and new inputs.
Have each child carry their own little backpack
with a bottle of water and a snack, maybe a small plush toy they can’t live without. From the kindergarten age children are capable of carrying a small backpack. They might not want to carry it the whole way so be prepared to take over in the beginning stages, but the sooner they get used to it the better. By the time they turn seven, they will manage it by themselves.
after each hike with a small treat such as a pretty sticker, stop at an ice cream parlour or a playground visit. If your child walks the whole route without whining, especially a longer or a hilly one, they deserve a treat.
Make sure your kids are healthy and fine,
well-rested, with full stomach and empty bladders. Not everyone feels like hiking all the time, especially if they are feeling unwell or tired.
Pick a nice day
when everyone is in good mood. The best hikes are when all participants want to go and feel happy. Don’t pick a day for hiking when kids have other activities they prefer more such as a friend’s birthday party or their team’s soccer match.
Prep the kids for adventure
To set the mood, tell kids about the planned hike 2-3 days in advance and get them excited about the adventures they’ll experience while hiking. Do it in an encouraging and interest-igniting manner so they get enthusiastic and start counting the nights they must sleep through till you set out.
and stop for amazing views, throwing rocks into a stream or collecting beautiful fallen leaves and twigs for later home crafting. With young kids, frequent breaks are a must. Their legs are shorter, and they get tired faster. Regular breaks will minimize their complaints.
Take your whole family
Organize a fun field trip with other befriended families or family members such as aunts, grandparents and cousins. The more, the merrier. In groups with other children, your own kids will whine less because the other children provide distraction and playtime. Also, if you hike in a territory with abundant wildlife such as bears, coyotes or deer, the bigger the group the louder you’ll be and the less chance of an animal encounter. As much as I love hiking, I am scared to hike in the woods known for bears, boars and such. We always carry a whistle and talk loudly with others, especially in areas with dense vegetation. I prefer to be loud and let the animals know we are passing by so they can either leave or stay quiet in the bushes and wait out while we walk by. I don’t want to be quiet and surprise them.
Talk and explain
You can learn a new song or tell stories. Teach them about the surrounding environment and elements you encounter along the way such as birds, poisonous plants, worms, trees or edible wild greens. Learn beforehand about wild edibles such as Sergei Boutenko is a great info resource), search for them and try them along the way.
Teach them survival skills
Tell them what to do if they get lost, how to call for help, about wildlife encounters, safety rules and first aid. These topics are exciting because they smell of danger so chances are your kids will remember most of what you tell them.
Pick interesting routes
with spectacular views, waterfalls, lakes, rocks or see-worthy points. Beautiful nature inspires us all. Teach your kids to appreciate and enjoy the beauty around us. Stop to admire a great view down the valley, let it soak in and don’t forget to take a family picture.
If they get tired, distract them
with group singing and chanting rhythmic songs, word puzzles, quizzes, fun knowledge tests or games such as “who finds first a big pine cone or a reddish stone” etc.
Put them in charge
Make them the captain of the group, the navigator or the leader. Ask them where to go, show them the map and the highlighted trail you are about to take, give them the map and make them lead the group, let them decide where the next break will take place etc.
Don’t carry them too much
Judge according to your child’s capabilities or age and choose a trail that you think they should manage. Don’t fall for their tricks such as whining, pretending pain in knees or eyelashes. That might mean laziness, boredom or just plain desire to be in charge. Carry them only if they are really exhausted, hurt and at the end of their strength. Do it in intervals – carry them 500 metres and make them walk the next 300, carry them again and so forth. Push them into action in a positive way with encouraging and kind words, smiles and being a great role model. You can bribe them with a sweet reward, a mini-size chocolate bar or one cookie, after they reach that tall tree 300 meters ahead etc.
Do you have any great tips for hiking with kids? What works best for you? Please let me know in the comments below.
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