Today we welcome Carrie Visintainer to the blog. She has a fabulous site encouraging women, men and families to “free your wild” – to find your passions and pursue them (and not let adding children to the mix suffocate them). Be sure to check out her bio at the end of this post. Thanks, Carrie, for joining us today with some great tips for hiking with kids (because we all need a little kick in the pant sometimes to get out there.)
Hiking with kids offers the perfect opportunity to explore the wonders of nature, stay fit, and bond as a family. My husband and I have been hitting the trails in the mountains near our Colorado home with our kids, ages 7 and 4, since they were newborns. There have been challenges, for sure! But because it’s is a priority for us, we’ve kept at it, and we’ve learned a lot along the way. Here are five ideas for keeping kids smiling and walking, and not whining.
- Make it a mystery. Look at trail descriptions in advance, and choose a path that includes varied scenery and plentiful opportunities for discovery. Maybe you start in a dense forest, emerge into a big meadow, and then finish at a crashing waterfall. Other fun landmarks include rivers, lakes, scenic overlooks, or historical sites, which can also serve as milestones along the way. As you walk, say things like, “Okay, now we’re at the old miner’s cabin. Next, we’ve got to look for…”
- Rest often, but not too much. Young kids often act like they’ve climbed Everest after walking for ten minutes. They complain of tired legs and failing lungs. However, do you see how they run circles (literally) around you at home? I’ve found it works well to rest every thirty minutes. Even toddlers can make it; really. During the rest, offer water and high-energy snacks like granola bars, nuts, and dried fruit, and compliment them on their progress.
- Keep it engaging. Adults often have a destination in mind, but for kids it’s all about the journey. Point out interesting plants, trees, and flowers along the way, and take time to stop and look closely at birds, insects, and strange rocks or logs. Kids never seem to tire of looking into holes and speculating about what might live inside. (Of course, they also always notice scat.)
- Offer rewards for milestones. Even if you’re not really into sugar at home, it works wonders on the trail. I like to bring treats that are novel for my kids— creative lollypops, pop rocks, gummy bears—and hand them out when they’ve accomplished something noteworthy. It doesn’t have to be anything major. Maybe your child made it to the end of the trail, or didn’t whine for a certain period of time, or did way better than the last time you were out hiking. Each kid is different, so encourage them!
- Celebrate success. After every hike, our family sits down for a big meal (at home or in a restaurant) that includes dessert. This is nice for adults, too. During the meal, talk about the hiking experience. Go around the table, with each person sharing their two favorite things about the day. Little kids often contribute powerful insights. It’s also helpful to ask about challenges, which will help you identify ways to modify the hike next time, or identify areas where your child might need an extra reward. End on a positive note, maybe even discussing what kind of trail you’d like to do next time.
Let’s keep the conversation going. What tips do you have? What’s worked for you on the trail with kids?
Carrie Visintainer is a Colorado-based writer and the founder of Free Your Wild, empowering women and families to unlock their inner wild. Her work has appeared in Outside and 5280, and she’s the Wild Mama columnist for The Coloradoan. Her first book is forthcoming, represented by Wolf Literary. Visit Carrie and share your insights at www.freeyourwild.com.