Hiking can be an amazing experience, exposing you to wilderness and scenery that is astonishingly beautiful and giving you a chance to experience nature beyond the sidewalk and car window. If you think of it as a pre-parenting activity, or something to do when a babysitter comes over, you're not the only one. Hiking can be rigorous, rugged, and sometimes unpredictable.
But with kids? Absolutely! Hiking with children, while perhaps different than what you would do on your own, can be rewarding and fun. Here are a few tips to make it joyful for all of you.
One key is being able to adjust your own expectations. Instead of going at an even pace, be prepared to stop time and again to look at the interesting bug, investigate under a rock, or spy on a bird. Frequent stops for water and snacks will be important, as will bathrooms breaks whenever available. Stopping for longer breaks to climb on some rocks or plunge tired feet in a stream will dramatically increase your child's stamina and make for a better day for you all. Playing little games, singing songs, and telling stories will keep them going as well.
Be sure to think carefully about the trail. Steep climbs, treacherous drop-offs or an over-grown route will turn your hike into a miserable experience pretty quickly. A fairly even grade and a well-trodden path will be your best bets. Also, if possible, look for a trail that has a reward at the end - the promise of a waterfall , lake or beautiful vista will keep your little ones motivated to keep going. If that's not possible, you may wish to promise a treat—a small toy, a cookie, some juice—at the end.
Be sure to load up your own pack with a few extra supplies. Little ones get chilled or overheated more quickly than adults, so be sure you have a clothing option or two. Bringing along sunscreen, bug repellant, and lots extra water is always a good idea. And a first aid kit is a necessity—be sure to pack it with extra band-aids, creams for rashes or bug bites and Benadryl just in case you discover a new allergy.
While hiking, your level of supervision will certainly be different than what it is in your own home. The rock jutting up in the path and the unidentified berries hanging on a nearby branch will require some sharp eyes to spot. Also, it's easy to get caught up in the beauty of your surroundings without realizing that your child might be tiring—they don't realize their limits as well as adults. Always having them walk in front of you will help you keep your eye on them and will also allow them to go at their own pace, ensuring that they don't tire quickly. Keep track, too, of your own stamina as you may end up carrying a child or putting one on your shoulders at the end.
With these simple tips, you will be introducing your children to a wonderful way to experience wilderness. By the time they are older, they will be experienced outdoors kids and will be able to hike the nearest peak with you, perhaps even beating you to the top!
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