We drove 3 hours Saturday to reach our closest mountain, Pilot Mountain, so my daughter could have her first proper mountain hike. She has at least a hundred hours of hiking under her belt. (Not bad for 7!) She was ten steps ahead of me the whole way round the entire summit! Getting to this point took a lot of work. She used to cry when I would say "walk" or "hike." Trial and error has been the greatest teacher. Here are our tips for hiking with children..
10 Tips for Hiking With Kids
1. Let them stop. And stop. And stop some more. The younger they are, the more often they will need to stop. Just accept that you won't be going as far or as fast as you'd like. You have to work up to a real hiker's speed. Right now, it's about the journey. Children want to stop and look at rocks, splash in a creek, admire the caterpillars. The better experience they have, the more likely kids are to want to hike in the future. If the stops seem too long, you can set a time limit. Two minutes seems like enough time to for a child to get psychological rest without pushing a parent's patience threshold.
2. Good Old-Fashioned Scavenger Hunt. Many time, I have made a list of items for my daughter to find: pine cones, feathers, birds, mushrooms, flowers, crooked trees,glittery rocks, etc. But if you find yourself hiking with a bored child and no paper, you can start an impromptu scavenger hunt. It can even be a competition for who can spot the most cardinals, birch trees or butterflies.
3. Have a destination. Even I don't like walking aimlessly. A trail that leads to a waterfall, mountain, lake or beautiful overlook gives a child a reason to pick up the pace. Having a purpose, a place to be, makes the hike more of a trip and less of a chore. We've stopped. Not all of us are fortunate to live near stunning landmarks. (I'm from the flat lands of the Mississippi Delta.) Mark your "destination" with a picnic before you turn back around or write "we were here" in the dirt with a stick. Do the hokey pokey. Just something to signify an accomplishment occurred.
4. Bring a ball. On our hike on Pilot Mountain, we saw three different families throwing footballs as they hiked. That's a brilliant way to liven up a bored child. Frisbees would work, too, or a badminton set or a balled up sock!
This guy was having his mom throw a football to him up the mountain!
5. The Little Photographer. If the kids have a camera or you have one to loan them, let them play photographer. You might be surprised at what they see that the adult eye passes over. You can offer them the added benefit of posting their best shots on social media or working on a project with their photos such as a calendar.
6. Give the Child a Responsibility. Bring backpacks for your children and give them titles like "carrier of the water" and "protector of the lunch." Some kids might prefer to be the scout and stay a few feet ahead of the group or be a firewood finder. Having a sense of importance will give them stamina.
7. When You Can't Walk, Run. Keeping a constant rhythm and a slow and steady pace, can make a child feel tired. If the kids start to grumble, "Tired" or "bored," challenge them to a short race. They'll forget their complaints and their energy will be renewed. Plus, you'll make better time!
8. Play Car Games. When you find a dull stretch of path, it's time to pull out the old car games. Twenty Questions, alphabet games, I'm Going to the Moon and I'm Bringing.. If you're in no mood for games, take turns interviewing one another. You could ask, "What would be the first thing you'd do if you were president? Who is the nicest person you have ever met? What is your favorite thing about everyone here?" You might even learn something new about the people you love!
9. Piggy Back. Obviously, this only works for small children or super strong adults. My daughter used to yell, "Carry me!" before we got a sixth of a mile. We'd tell her, "If you walk for 10 more minutes, we'll give you a piggy back for one minute." Sometimes, she'd forgot about the free ride all together. Sometimes, she didn't, but we'd carry her for a minute, and then, start the process all over again. She felt like she was getting what she wanted, and we got peace, in ten minute increments.
10. Art Hike. Carry little notebooks and pencils in your pack. When the bellyaching starts, ask the children to find a pretty spot to stop and sketch because you need new art for your refrigerator (or to send to grandma or Santa or whomever has most clout with your bunch.) Nothing soothes the savage soul like art!