*Guest Post* Getting Reluctant Kids Excited about Hiking

    I am very honored to welcome Rob to the blog today.  He is a wealth of information when it comes to hiking with kids, and the first in a series of dads to join us here (because really this blog is about families, not just Mamas!) Please feel free to leave a comment for him (and us too!)

    =) Amelia
    Most children will find fun the idea of a hike and explore. Still, kids can be fickle creatures. Their lack of knowledge and experience in the world often makes them cautious about suggested activities. And in today’s video game-oriented, 300-cable channel, Internet-connected world, some kids may be reluctant – or even afraid – to get outside.
    You want to sway kids to at least entertain the notion that a hike might be fun. If they hit the trail thinking a long stretch of boredom awaits them, they’ll make the experience miserable for both themselves and for you.
    Here are some easy steps any mom, dad or grandparent can take to get their kids excited about being outside.
    Your new assistant planner
    To entice kids, let them help plan the hike. They can assist in selecting the destination, trace out the trail on a map, choose which snacks to bring, and more.
    Coloring pages
    For younger kids, find coloring pages about hiking on the Internet that you can print for free. Coloring pages showing children having fun and some of the scenery on the trial often gets kids excited about the adventure ahead. Just type “hiking coloring pages” in a search engine for images.

    Check out pictures
    Show them pictures of interesting animals, plants and rock formations they might see on the trail. Photos taken by other hikers of a trail usually can be found online or in guidebooks. Remember, though, that wildflowers are seasonal and most animals prefer not to be seen, so some of the photos you’ll find may not represent what you’ll actually observe along the trail when hiking it. You want to be careful of setting too high of expectations for the hike, which is why sticking to exotic rock formations and other permanent features usually is your best bet here.
    Read kids books about hiking
    Get a library book about hiking, showing all of the fun that can be had on such an adventure. If your library uses the Dewey Decimal System (and most do), you can find hiking books aimed at kids in the 796s of the juvenile nonfiction section. If hitting a gem or fossil trail, pick up a book about rockhounding in the 552s.

    Make hiking gear
    Children also can make their own hiking gear. Trekking poles and a utility belt to hold a water bottle and snacks don’t have to be purchased but can be constructed using materials you probably have in the yard or garage. Instructions for a number of these crafts can be found online.

    Entice them with online goodies
    Several websites provide a variety of activities and even awards for completing them, all perfectly suited for elementary school children. Some are private companies, such as REI, which offers an Adventure Journal. Others are government agencies, like the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Watch Explorer programs. Nonprofits such as the National Wildlife Federation have mobile apps, games and crafts for kids.

    Invite your child’s friend
    If your children are older, allowing them to bring a friend is a great way to keep them excited about the trip. With younger children, though, this primarily is your time to bond with one another, though certainly if you can handle two young kids this is a good opportunity for them to learn social skills while discovering what nature has to offer.
    Watch your mouth
    Don’t call it a “hike.” Some kids think a “hike” means a death march through boring countryside. Instead, you are going on an “adventure,” an “expedition” or a “trek” – or say “we’re going to see a waterfall at the end of a trail.” For really hard to crack nuts say, “We’re walking to a pool where we’ll swim.” Now from the child’s point of view you’re not hiking but swimming. Finally, express your own wonderment and enthusiasm about nature. For younger children, it soon will be infectious.
    Rob Bignell is an avid hiker, long-time editor, and author of “Hikes with Tykes: A Practical Guide to Day Hiking with Kids.” He’s been taking his preschool son on day hikes for nearly five years. Together they’ve scaled summits almost two miles high, crossed America’s driest deserts, and walked beneath trees soaring 15 stories over their heads.
    You can find Rob (and all his great stories and tips) here: Hikes with Tykes 
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      1. I loved this post. I encounter similar challenges in getting my son outside. I especially liked the last tip, not referencing it as a hike but highlighting a piece of the adventure that we have to get to. That helps keep the focus on where it needs to be. Great stuff!

      2. these are all great ideas. we haven’t used the adventure journal idea yet, but will definitely put it to use this spring! our five year old completed her first 12 mile backpacking trip last summer, and we’re going for a longer one in the spring (without another little hiker to accompany her this time, unfortunately) so an adventure journal might be just what we need 🙂

      3. I appreciate the nice words about the post, Blair. Congratulations to your 5-year-old completing a 12-mile hike – that’s no small feat (even for an adult!).

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