Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Getting kids dialled in for hiking

Engaging children to explore while hiking

Hiking can be a great family passion. Making the hike engaging and entertaining for children will help to pass the time and to get through the tough spots on the trail. Here are some tips for making a long day fun and educational.

Flora and fauna identification

Forest on Jewell Trail of Mt. Washington

Children are like sponges for information. Before heading out on the trail, do some research with your children. Learn about the common types of trees, shrubs, plants and flowers they many encounter. Edibles along the trail (e.g. blueberries) are also fun to identify (and eat!).

Also good to teach them about vegetation they should be avoiding, like poison ivy, oak or sumac. 

You can create a 'score card' and laminate it (so it does not get wet) to identify the different types of vegetation and bring it with you on the trail to help identify the flora and fauna they are observing on the hike.  Observing the surrounding, rather than hiking by them, can create a great dialog during the hike with kids.

Sounds of the forest

Listening to the sounds of the forest

There are many great sounds in the forest, from birds chirping to the sounds of howling wolves (depending on your location of course). 

Teaching children about the different sounds of bird songs or the various sounds of frogs (chirp, croak, ribbit, peep, grunt, etc.) is a great way to feed their love of learning and an appreciation of the outdoors. When they hear a bird, for example, you can play a game with them to see if they can identify the bird. If you spot a frog, see who can make the sound of that frog. 

The geology around you and under you

Exploring caves near Blue Mountain, Ontario

The study of rocks and rock formations is fascinating, especially when you are hiking on them and when they are all around you.  Rather than just jumping from rock to rock (which can also be fun), try investigating how the rock was formed and the type of rock you are walking on.  Are you walking on granite, igneous, quartz, lava, shale, banded iron, glacial, sandstone?  How can you tell the difference among the various types of rocks?  

Creating a sheet that can help identify possible types of rocks and formations on a hike in a specific location can help inform the discovery of rocks (and educate the parents about the different types of rocks too!).

Animal tracking and spotting signs of animals

Capturing animal tracks on hikes

Animals leave signs in the woods that tell you that they have been on the same path as you are hiking on, including a track, scat or dropping and hairs or feathers. 

There are great books or laminated sheets you can get before you head out to help teach children learn about these signs left by animals. 

When you come across a track, kids can identify it and figure out what direction the animal was heading. Scat or droppings also helps to identify what animal was on the trail. 

Kids are always intrigued by animals and knowing how to identify them is a fun way to engage them on the hike.

Scavenger Hunt

Getting the kids involved on the trail
Now that you have equipped them with some knowledge of the flora, fauna, rocks, and animals you may encounter along the trail, you can set up a scavenger hunt. To do this, you just need a little research, some creativity and a hiking notepad that can write when it's wet.   

Create a list before you head out of things you want them to find along the trail, such as a specific tree, mushroom, flower, bird, rock, animals track, etc.  When they spot these items or hear them, they can note them in their books.  To make sure they work as a team, it is best that they all look and hear for the same items as this creates a fun game and helps them to bond on the trail.  

Games along the trail

Playing games on the trail 

Before cellphones and other devices, parents used to play games with their kids to help pass the time on long drives.  Hiking is one of the activities you can do as a family that still affords you the opportunity to play these games, since it's too difficult to walk on trails while playing on their phones because they may walk into a tree!  There are several games that you can play while hiking and many of these you probably played with your parents on those long drives (but in case you forgot, we are providing a list of examples below).
  • Name that tune: Someone hums a tune and everyone else tries to guess what it is. Who ever guesses it right gets to go next.
  • Story telling: Someone starts a story and then the next hiker says the next line, then the next and so on. The stories can be very silly but so much fun.
  • Word connect: Someone says a word, the next person says a word that is related to that word, then the next person says a word related to that word and it keeps going.
  • What do you want to be: Each hiker tells what they want to be when they get older and the adults can tell about what they wanted to be as a kid.
  • The alphabet game: Starting with the letter A, identify something on the trail that starts with that letter and then work your way through the alphabet.
  • Close up: Have someone run up the trail a bit and snap a picture of something extremely close up. The other hikers have to try and identify the object in the picture.
  • Twenty questions: One person in the group thinks of a person place or thing and the rest of the group has twenty questions to figure it out.
The games are endless. Have an idea of a few of them so you can keep your children engaged along the trail.  Feel free to comment below about some of the games that you have played while on the trail.

Taking the time to talk with your kids on the trail

Sometimes it is just nice to have casual conversation. Rather than sitting across from your kids and asking them questions (and not getting responses), hiking provides a diversion from face to face communication and helps children to talk at their pace and their comfort level.

Allow the kids to bring up topics as they come up. Maybe there has been something bothering them at school and they have been waiting for a good time to talk to you (without all of the other distractions) and hiking allows time to vocalize their worries and to get help from you to problem solve. Or perhaps they have a funny story to share or they have questions about something they have been curious about. 

Allowing free dialog always creates interesting conversations. It may not involve the whole group but allowing hikers to pair off and chat is a natural way to enjoy the woods.

Independent hiking

There are always places on the trail for children to have a little independence and allow them to hop over rocks or other obstacles to master the outdoors. 

Allowing children to be independent on the trail teaches them to be responsible, while helping to achieve confidence while hiking.

Walking over fallen logs or creek crossing on rocks gives them small feelings of success and accomplishment.  This allows them to develop their hiking skills and creates a greater sense of confidence on the trail. 

While it is easier for parents to have young hiker follow the exact path taken by an adult in the lead, it does not teach children to be creative and to learn ways to overcome obstacles.  

Fun at the top

Reaching the peak of a mountain is an accomplishment and should be celebrated, but allowing children to explore the summit and to engage in this amazing environment helps them feel connected to the summit experience and develops a sense of curiosity for the tops of mountains.  


Hiking is extremely rewarding and fun for the whole family, but hiking can also engage children to learn about the importance of environment  nature, the ecosystem and the geography.    

Creating fun, interactive, educational and engaging games along the trail can alleviate boredom, fatigue and can pass the time on a longer hike. 

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