If your kids are the normal kind, you might have a little trouble tricking them into doing outdoor things that are outside their comfort zones. Sure, playing outside is easy. And camping may even be a breeze. But taking small kids hiking?
Oh boy, now we’ve got trouble.
It’s true, some kids are awesome. Some kids hike for hours or even days without a single complaint or meltdown. If that’s your kid, whoa are you lucky.
For the rest of us with, you know, normal children, we have two options. The first option is: don’t go hiking until your kids are a lot older. The second option is: teach them to hike.
I like option two.
I have two wildly different types of kids on my hands. It occurred to me recently that I’m basically raising Ernie and Bert. Dave, my Bert, is the kind of guy who likes to sit quietly and read. Walking any distance with him includes a lot of complaining. Huck, my Ernie, is the kind of guy who wants to play drums in the middle of the night after eating cookies in his bed. He’s good for the first two miles of any adventure as he sprints up the trail … and then he loses steam and it’s over. You basically have to drag him home as he toddles slowly behind you like a drunk baboon.
I’ve been reading a lot about taking small kids hiking in an attempt to get my 7 and 4-year-old on board with hiking. I don’t want to hike all day, but I would like to be able to do at least five miles. And while we aren’t there yet, we have gotten better.
Tricks for Taking Small Kids Hiking
1. Practice before you go. Last fall we started working on hikes by going on incrementally longer walks. We visit parks and go on short nature walks. We walk to school. We walk up hills. We walk down hills. And the practice is working. A hike we went on over a nice weekend early this winter showed that the wherewithal of both Sprinter and Whiner increased. We got farther than we ever had before.
2. Talk about it ahead of time. Kids are easily swayed by the power of positive thinking. Don’t use the word “hiking” with them — it sounds boring. Instead call it an “adventure.” Doesn’t that sounds more exciting? You’re going on an adventure. You can’t wait to get there. You are you going to see amazing things. Isn’t that be nice? You’re going to look at awesome stuff on the trail. Won’t that be exciting?
3. Gear up. Kids like gear as much as adults do. For Christmas we bought our guys a couple of practical sun hats and called them “adventure hats.” Now they know things are about to get exciting when we bust out the hats. Other fun kid gear could include head lamps, rain coats and hiking pants — all practical but kind of cool.
4. Remember comfort. Pint-sized hikers want to be comfortable too. If you’re hiking or adventuring in extreme conditions, you’ll want to outfit your little people in the same quality of gear you want for yourself.
5. Lower your expectations. No, you’re probably not going to be able to do with your kids the same things you would do with other adults. Your hikes are going to be shorter and they are going to be really, really slow. You’ll get farther if you present it less as a forced march and more as a chance to examine every stump and flower. Don’t fight the slowness — embrace it. Little legs are probably going to wear out really fast, so if your child is young enough to tote in a kid-hiking backpack, you’ll want to have one ready.
6. Raise your expectations. What you should not do is give-up on outdoor adventuring altogether. You can take small kids hiking and they can enjoy the outdoors if you give them the chance to learn how. They are only going to be this age for right this moment – so enjoy the excuse to linger over rocks and creeks, and look at right now as a chance to give them a lifelong gift of enjoy the outdoors.