Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Top 10 ways to make hiking fun for kids

 Kids having fun on top of Rocky Ridge Mountain in the Adirondacks 

The most important factor to consider when hiking with children is that it has to be fun. If it is not fun, you will face resistance even before the hike starts or you will hear "are we there yet?" until you get off the trail. Involving children in all stages of the hike (planning, preparing, researching, deciding when / where to take breaks, documenting the trips, etc.) is the key to a successful family adventure.

Top ten ways to making hiking fun for kids

1) Once you have determined the skill level of your little hikers, now you must look at trails match their skill set. Come up with several options and discuss with the kids the pros and cons of each trail. Allow them to ask questions and go through pictures of the trails to give them as much information as possible. If they are involved in choosing the hiking the trail, they feel involved and invested. 

Kids planning route on Centennial Ridge in Algonquin Park, Ontario 
2) Now that a suitable trails has been selected, it is now time to get the equipment ready. Lay the packs and other equipment out. Have each child go through and ensure they have everything they need. Show them how to organize their packs, as it teaches them how to be a good hiker and draws them into the experience. They may even point out pieces of their gear they wish to upgrade.

Planning for hikes at our campsite near Boston

3) Take them grocery shopping for food for the hike (e.g. snacks, lunch, drink powders for the water). Let them pick out snacks that are trail worthy and they find fun to eat. They will look forward to taking times and anticipate the yummy snack they picked out when they feel tired on the trail and need some extra energy to keep going.

Sharing a snack while on the trail 

4) Give them a job to do. Ask them to research fun games to play along the trail. Ask older children to help their siblings master technical parts of the trail. Give children specific items to carry in their packs (e.g. the snacks, water filtration system, etc.) and have them in charge of the items while on the trail.

Older brother helping sister to log walk 

5) Take breaks when they need it or at a fun place they can explore. Stopping at a place where they can do some rock jumping or throw rocks into a creek allows them to decompress and relax. Noticing the signs that your little hiker may need a break is important to avoid resistance towards hiking.

Having fun on the trail 

6) Be an educator of the forest. Teaching the kids about plant life they will see is a fun way to learn. Learning about different species of trees, flowers and shrubs can help them identify them on the trail and grow an appreciation of their surroundings (rather than just looking down at their feet on the trail!). Teach them about the fungus, mushrooms and edibles they can pick and eat along the way and those that should be avoided. Knowing what plants to avoid (like leaves of three let it be for poison ivy and oak) is important for safety on the trail. Kids tend to enjoy spotting the plant life around them and sharing it with the group.

Developing an appreciation of trees 

7) Learn to spot the presence of animals on the trail. There is so much wild life along the trail and signs of wild life to observe. From insects, birds, amphibians and mammals there are signs of them all along the trail. Learning about animal tracks, for example, can be a huge part of enjoyment on the trail. Kids can carry a small card that helps them identify tracks or scat along the trail and they can record the types of animals on each trail. Make sure you stop and engage in their enjoyment of all things along the trail. Another really fun game along the trail is identifying a bird or frog by its song. They can do research before hand to help them with this game.

Holding a red eastern newt on the trail in Vermont 

8) Allow each child to lead on the trail at some point. This allows them to feel like they are leading the group. They can point out obstacles along the trail and set the pace. Rather than always following the adults on the trail, they can become the leader. Plus it teaches them how to identify trail markers and how to read them. Just make sure you are aware of the trail conditions ahead and make sure they stop at any section that becomes too technical and where they need assistance.

Children taking the lead on the hiking trail 
9) Give older children the opportunity to be independent on the trail as this gives them a sense of accomplishment and the feeling that they can be trusted. As well, older siblings can assist their siblings on technical parts, which can give them a sense of pride. Let the children use the hiking equipment. If you need to pump water, let them find the perfect place to pump from the river and allow them to pump the water. Kids tend to love being included in hiking, so include them in all aspects of the sport!

Hiking towards independence and feeling on top of the world 
10) Capturing the moment. Most older children have some type of device that allows them to take pictures. Encourage them to use their devices for taking pictures (but not for checking their social media sites while on the trail!). You can also teach them to take pictures with the family camera that you use for the hikes. Children see the world differently, so having pictures from their perspectives will only enhance your photos and videos of the trip. Another advantage is that you will be able to have them take pictures of you too while on the trail!

Picture captured by Spicy of parents on the trail 

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