I think when many parents think of hiking with their children, they imagine a seemingly never ending drudge as children stop every ten feet to complain of needing to be carried and repeatedly ask “Are we done yet?”
A couple of weeks ago, Kellen inquired as to when we could go for a walk in the desert. I got to wondering why he loves to go for walks now, when he started out as one of those “when will this be over” kids. Over many hikes, I’ve picked up a few tips to making the trails more fun for kids, which of course makes it more enjoyable for everyone. Here are eight tips to get your little one loving the outdoors and ready for adventure.
- Have a scavenger hunt. Create a simple list of ten or so items that can be found on a hiking trail. Some of our favorites are triangle or heart-shaped rocks, a stick in the shape of a Y, a bug, a small leaf, a trail sign, and a map. You could also do a five senses hunt- the sound of a bird, touch a smooth rock, sip from a water fountain at a trail head. If your child can’t read yet, you can draw simple figures or use an image shirt to create a list of pictures. Of course, it is more fun if you have a prize for when the list is completed- a small magnifying glass is a great one, but my boys love lollipops too.
Kellen completing his list.
2. Assign jobs. I have two boys. When we hike, one is the trail leader. The other is the trip photographer. You could have someone in charge of the snacks and water. Perhaps a navigator that looks for maps and signs. Kids love having specific jobs that make them feel integral to the adventure.
Photos by Liam, our trip photographer
3. Think of cool trail names and destinations. We frequently walk a trail titled “Desert Classic.” But my boys know it as the trail to the Cookie Rocks. One day, I said “Look at those rocks. They look like huge chocolate cookies. Let’s call them the Cookie Rocks.” The name stuck and now when I ask if they want to hike, they’ll often respond “Can we go to the Cookie Rocks?” Fun names make things, you guessed it, more FUN!
Sitting on the Cookie Rocks with Liam
4. Create a hiking journal- Kids are going to want to pick up treasures along the way. Interesting rocks and sticks, pieces of glass, small parts of a bike- they all make their way into their pockets. We tape or glue them into a journal along with a small note of the date, where we were hiking, and who we were with. The boys are always wanting to create a new page.
5. Treat their treasures like treasures. Along the same lines as the hiking journal, we create special jars to showcase their found items. I know for parents it can seem like “great, you found yet another rock.” But these items are important to your kids. Making memory jars is a beautiful way to save those memories without finding rocks and sticks on every counter top.
Treasure jars with feathers, rocks, bones, sticks, and more.
A favorite treasure jar, containing items from hikes, vacations, and other adventures
6. Bring out your gadgets. Kids love playing with a compass or looking through binoculars. Just when they start to get bored, take a break and have fun making something far away look up close.
Taking turns with binoculars on a group hike
7. Prepare for frequent stops. A one mile hike with a preschooler can take an hour. The goal is not to go far or fast- simply enjoy being together and get them comfortable with the idea that hiking is a fun activity. We take a lot of snack breaks, stop to sit on many rocks, and spend a lot of time stopped on the trail writing our names in the sand.
8. Turn around before they get tired. Hopefully with all these fun activities, your kids are going to fall in love with hiking. But their little bodies are still getting used to the activity. Be cautious as they cry “We want to go further!” They want to keep seeing and doing more and might not be prepared for getting back. Better to start slow and figure out where that threshold is.
Of course, always wear sunscreen and hats, take a simple first aid kit, and plenty of water. Happy hiking!