Hiking with kids

How to get your young kids hiking!

January 14, 2016

If you’re ever hiked with your children you know that it’s not as easy as hiking by yourself. Here are a few tips we’ve found from teaching our 2 & 3 year old to hike so we can start hiking as a family.

1. Have fun

Have fun is easier to say than do which is why all the following tips will be how to make it fun. But having fun is the root of getting your kids to like hiking.  They are never going to buy in if you’re acting like a drill sergeant all the way up the hill.  Each kid will be different so it is important to figure out what your kid enjoys and what their strengths are so you can focus on the positive.  My daughter loves climbing over logs so while I may see a trail covered in fallen trees as difficult to her it is fun times.

2.  Choose hikes that are achievable

The hike you choose to do with your children will vary on the age of the children, but is mostly dependant on their hiking ability. My husband has a bad back and didn’t want to carry our first kid.  While most moms (including myself) were still carrying their kids he was teaching our oldest to hike.  Start with small hikes.  We always used the term hiking with our daughter Molly even if the hike to us was more of a walk in the park.  We used a lot of “good job, you’re such a good hiker” language to build up her confidence for the next hike.  We never found the need to push her.  Instead we gradually built up the length of each hike and praised her with each achievement.

3.  Reach a destination

Pre-kids we did a lot of wondering randomly through the woods. Other hikes were loops through the forest with the mileage and the time as goals.  Kids like a destination.  We generally hike to beaches, to big rocks to climb, to caves to explore or to the top of hills.  On the hike we talk about the destination and what we will do when we get there such as collecting shells at the beach or seeing the beautiful view at the top of the hill.

4.  Be patient

I know this list sounds just like life with kids but I didn’t have to practice patience while hiking pre-kids. Remember why you are bringing your kids hiking with you.  If you wanted the workout you would go for a hike while a babysitter watched the kids.  But you want the kids to enjoy hiking with you so slow down and remember that a lot of this is new to them.  My kids are obsessed with carrying sticks on hikes.  It’s not my favourite thing as I’m always worried they are going to fall down and poke an eye out.  But we slow down and look at sticks that have moss or lichen growing on them.  We stop to look at waterfalls and examine how the water is diverted under the trail.  We pick up more sticks and discuss whether we should carry them or leave them on the trail for the way down.  We poke some mushrooms, watch birds flying or woodpeckers drilling their holes.  We walk on logs, climb over logs, and crawl under them.  We often stop and play at one place longer than I ever want to, but this is why you brought the kids.  The whole hike can be memorable if you let it.

5.  Play game, sing songs & bring snacks

Your kids aren’t going to enjoy hiking if you’re hating it so have fun yourself. Stop and play an impromptu game of hide & seek while hiking.  I never had before but now it’s a regular part of our hike and guess what I love it.  Sitting still in the bushes brings me back to why I go into the forest in the first place.  Find good climbing trees or build fairy homes.  Go off trail, be an explorer or a pirate or a mermaid.

Like any other time well fed kids are happier. We had barely started our hike today when our kids asked for a snack.  Not being hungry at all ourselves our first thought was to deny their request and reach a destination first, but why?  We kept our mouths shut, gave them each a cracker and they were happy.  At our destination we always have lunch or a big snack regardless of what time it is.  We always remember to bring the kids favourite snacks for a job well done.

6.  Move past the difficulties

Today my 3 year old hiked up a fairly big hill. It was the longest walk we’d ever done, about 4 hours (total time out) and we went through our ups & downs.  Luckily at that age she doesn’t hold a grudge.  She gets mad when we tell her not to climb over a tree in the most dangerous place, but a minute later she is running up the trail excited about something else.  Her first fit was pretty early in our walk and my husband wanted to turn around and go home right then.  I was happy that he let me talk him into continuing.  We had our moments but I thoroughly enjoyed our day and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything else.

7.  When all else fails, lie

So the hike didn’t go as smoothly as you’d planned. It’s happened to us before but like moving past the difficulties on the hike I want to move past today’s hike and enjoy the next one.  We come home we’re haggard and exhausted from all the crying and fighting and that’s when I start lying.  “Thanks so much guys for coming on that hike with me that was soooo fun!  Remember how we climbed the hill and you guys did so great climbing all the way up without being carried”  And on and on until they believe they are great hikers and we will start next weekend’s hike on a good memory.

Like the joys of parenting the highs come with the lows and you continue doing what you love and what you believe is good for your kids. Truthfully our kids love hiking, but some days they hate it.

See you on the trail, we’ll be out again next weekend!

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