As our society becomes less and less active, more and more parents are realizing the importance of instilling an active lifestyle in children from an early age. One of the best ways to do so is to adopt hiking as a regular family activity. Not only does hiking provide a way to build strength and cardiovascular health, it also allows adults and children alike to view areas that they would not otherwise see that are off the beaten path. If you want to take up hiking with your kids, then here are some ideas to ensure that the experience is a positive one for all involved.
When you first start hiking, it can be really tempting to bite off more than you can chew distance- and terrain-wise. Instead, you should start small to get an idea of what your children can handle. If they are old enough, let them help you choose the trail by giving them details of what they may see or experience therein. Look for trails that are fairly flat and well-traveled to avoid injuries and overtiredness.
Use the Right Equipment
Even if they beg and plead to do otherwise, insist that your kiddos wear the right clothes and shoes for the task at hand. Hiking boots or shoes are best, but sneakers will also suffice. Clothing should be worn in layers and moisture wicking, preferably with built-in sunscreen to keep the skin safe. Hats that cover the ears offer the most protection. Any exposed areas should be covered in 30+ SPF sunscreen. A good rule of thumb is to bring one pint of water per person per hour that you will be hiking. Also, take along plenty of healthy snacks that you know your kids will enjoy. Kids will naturally enjoy hiking activities if they are treated and equipped like adult hikers. This may mean a special trip to the store for a small backpack all their own.
Teach Hiking Ethics
It is important to teach your kids the proper ethics and rules of hiking, particularly if you are on a trail with other hikers around. Kids should learn to respect wildlife, keeping a safe distance and avoiding making lots of noise that may scare animals away. Additionally, children need to learn to “leave no trace,” picking up any trash that they may otherwise be tempted to leave behind. As in golf, it is a good idea to let quicker hikers go ahead of your group, or at least offer for them to do so if they choose. Children and adults alike should stick to the marked trails.
Keep it Interesting
A long walk may seem completely boring to many children, particularly in the teenage years. If this is the case, make a game of it, having children play hiking bingo or have a hiking scavenger hunt along the way. You can also stage a photography contest to keep the fun going when you get back home. Children who associate hiking with games will more than likely be begging you to do it again at the next opportunity.
Children by nature have shorter legs and attention spans than adults do, so it is important to monitor them for energy level, hunger, and thirst as you hike. It is a good idea to stop and turn back before they get tired to avoid carrying them the rest of the way to the campsite or car. If you do see that they have reached their limit, stop and take a break, keeping things light and fun and perhaps having a snack. In a few minutes, they will probably be ready to go back under their own power.
If you are planning a hike with your children, keep these tips in mind so that it can be the experience you hope it will be. Above all else, have fun and be safe. Your children will look back on your time together as precious and enjoyable, and they will thank you for blessing them with an active lifestyle.