When my kids were young, we didn’t go hiking. Due to the fear I had in going to the outdoors, I didn’t have the chance to start my kids while they were young. I wanted so badly to be that mom that did these things, but I wasn’t. Fast forward to today, I have a few tips for those of you that are trying to start your kids at a younger age than mine got started. Each child is different and will need different things. You know your kids best. But don’t assume your kids can’t handle doing this. They certainly can.
When you begin to take your kids on hikes, you will want to start with a shorter distance. Depending on the ages your children are, you want to cater to the ones that don’t have the ability to do as much. You want to find the balance between stretching their limits and not giving them too much. How do you do this? Trial and error. The cool thing about hiking is that if you realize you are doing too much, you can just turn around and head back. Be careful though, as some of the trails you will experience are loops. So, if you have gone more than half way- you won’t want to trek back and go the longer way home (or to the car). Its not uncommon for kids to stretch their limits as well, so keep an eye out for cranky kids for the sole reason to be cranky and not really to be unhappy. My daughter is classic for complaining the first ten minutes of a hike and then enjoying the rest of the day without complaint. You just gotta get past that first few minutes! Your child may be different. You will only know the more you go.
Wear the right clothes:
There are so many ways to make sure your kids are wearing good gear. BUT, please don’t go out and buy a ton of gear for your kids just to make sure they are comfortable. It can get expensive really fast and they outgrow it even faster. Unless you have 5 boys that will be wearing hand-me-downs for each other, don’t spring for the lists of expensive gear! Here are a few guidelines to look for in clothing. In the summer, a light t-shirt and shorts are fine. In springtime, make sure to bring a light jacket so that you can protect them from wind and/or rain. Winter hiking obviously will take a little more prep with a heavier coat and warmer pants. Looking for clothes that have material that is NOT cotton is key. But this can get expensive fast, so just do your best. Shopping at local thrift stores is a great place to check for gear that other kids have outgrown.
Bring lots of water:
ALWAYS bring more water than you think you need. It’s a good idea to bring multiple water bottles or fill up those camel packs really full. I would always rather carry more weight in water just in case than not have enough. Do your best guess on how much you will need and the more you go, the more you will learn about you and your kid’s drinking habits. Accompany that with thoughts on distance and how hot it be that day and you can usually make sure to have plenty on hand.
Make them carry their own gear:
I cannot stress this enough. Buy your kids their own packs and teach them how to carry their own gear. A small backpack and a bottle of water may be all they are carrying, but teaching them how to do that at a young age will help them in the future. Make them carry their own lightweight jacket and even a camera if they choose. DON’T under any circumstances, carry their gear for them. All the crying in the world, won’t get them out of doing their duty. I am always a proponent of letting them bring what they want and teaching them what to bring based on weight. If they insist on bringing something you think is too heavy and unnecessary, then that is a lesson they will learn early on. It’s ok to let them learn that lesson.
Teach them trail etiquette:
As your kids get older, they will begin to see how other people treat things out on the trail. They will see trash, they will see cut flowers and they will see dog poop. Use each and every opportunity to teach your kids how these things are not ok. Teaching Leave No Trace Principles is a great way to train them young. Simple lessons that you can and should discuss each time you go out on the trail.
Teach them to stay safe:
It’s so important that as the kids learn about the outdoors more, they learn also about what can harm them. This isn’t trying to scare them in any way, but educating them on the things that can attack them, or bite them, or even rub on them and make them itchy, will all be helpful to their future. Poison Ivy, rattlesnakes, strange dogs, bears, and bees are all things they need to be aware of, learn about, and know how to treat wounds for. We want to keep it light and easy, not scary and intimidating. Again, you know your kids well. Some are apt to want to know these things and others are not. Be careful when teaching the timid ones all about the dangers. We want the outdoors to be a place they want to go- not a place they refuse to go.
Teach them about the area you’re in:
Part of the awesomeness of the outdoors is learning all about the things out there. Bring guide books on birds, plants, and animals. So when you go out, you can read about them and know more each time. Reading a small fact about something you see, will not only solidify the object but it may actually bring them to understand it better, not want to harm it, and also want to protect it. Repeating facts a lot as you go out is a good way to engrain the knowledge into their heads. It’s also a great way for us to learn as adults too.
I can’t wait to share the next one in this series with you. Keep an eye out for it!
Meanwhile, if you are interested in getting your own session with me, don’t hesitate to contact me!