Hiking is about far more than exercise.
With such a dramatic change in your families’ daily routines since the ‘stay at home’ order was issued, families are seeking creative ways to fill their days. For no cost, you and your kids can go hiking and maintain social distancing. Walking outdoors is not only good physical exercise, but also it is a natural human activity that improves concentration, produces endorphins, and provides a rich environment for learning.
As a mom of two, I’ve found my kids love this time spent together. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way to turn hikes into a time to de-stress and learn all along the trail.
Engage your kids before you leave the house. Older toddlers can prep, plan, and pack.
I like to ask my kids to think through everything from what to wear to what to pack. What’s the temperature outside and do we expect the weather to change while we’re away? I find that even my 4-year-old makes great choices about everything from footwear to snacks when we give him the information about how long we’ll be gone and what the temperature will be. Be prepared to bite your tongue when he insists on wearing his pants backward or his brother comes out in a Star Wars helmet.
Think in terms of time, not miles
Hiking with younger kids is all about appreciating each little moment, discovered flower, and fascinating bug. Leave your own exercise goals behind and instead think through how much time you have before you need to head home. You can also hike until the littlest in your crew seems just a little weary and then turn and head back without fanfare. The trip back will give them just enough opportunity to push themselves to finish without triggering a full meltdown. This is our favorite way to ensure that the drive home includes happy memories instead of tears.
Pick your learning themes before you start and let your kids lead the discussion
This works with everything from colors and shapes to plant identification and habitats. Our youngest (age 4) loves to be the spotter of trail markers and point the family in the right direction at each intersection. We often stop and use our senses to listen to the sounds of the forest, feel the textures of different plants, and generally make observations. Our older son (age 7) likes using his compass, talking about signs of the season, and looking for signs of animals – we don’t see many due to the volume of our family hiking. We have a lot to talk about and have not yet mastered our indoor/nature voices. On our most recent adventure, we saw beaver dams, a mallard duck, and deer tracks, as well as some plant signs of spring – wild ginger, blood root, and edible violets!
PRO TIP: If you have a kid that seems to have the same energy level as a well-caffeinated puppy, get them a backpack and have him/her be the carrier of water bottles, snacks, and other necessities. You can always carry an empty pack and consolidate if you overestimated their endurance.
You can get started today by planning for your next hike. Living in or near Guilford County? Here are some sources for local trails!
Let us know what tips you’ve learned in the comments below.