By Kathy Burns-Millyard
With a little planning and forethought, hiking with children can be a fun and rewarding experience. Hiking is a wonderful way to help them develop a love and respect for nature, stimulate their imagination and encourage them to stay active.
Even Snoopy Hikes: A great way to introduce children to the idea of hiking is through stories featuring their favorite animated characters. Several great children's books about hiking are available: "Curious George Goes Hiking," "Take a Hike Snoopy," "Berenstain Bears Blaze a Trail," and "Sheep Take a Hike," just to name a few. The stories give you an opportunity to talk about expectations before leaving home and give you something to refer to on the trail.
Where to Go: Start small children on short trails over easy terrain. In terms of ability, children can cover about 1 mile for every year they are in age. They may not want to hike that far, but they probably have the ability to do so. Short attention spans are kept busy on trails occupied with activities along the way (rocks to climb on, water to splash in, etc.). Older children are often motivated by the promise of something at the end a trail like a scenic vista or waterfall. Don't forget to plan for bathroom breaks and rest stops along the way.
Clothing and Footwear: Ideally, children (like adults) should be prepared for any weather and dressed in layers. They should also have access to suitable rain gear. Properly fitting hiking boots or tennis shoes are a must to avoid sore and tired feet. Leave open-toed shoes at home.
Water & Snacks: Bring plenty of both. Fruit and salty snacks are best (although sometimes candy works as a good motivator). Try to avoid bringing snacks laden with sugar and caffeine. They cause spikes (then crashes) in energy levels and tend to promote dehydration.
Matters of Safety: Know the basics of administering first-aid. Allergic reactions to insects or plants can turn urgent quickly. Keep children on the trail and within your site at all times. Steer them clear of poisonous plants, steep ledges, overhangs, and potentially dangerous falls. A small, travel sized first aid kit is great for short hikes in the event of accidental scrapes or insect bites.
Essential Gear: Wet wipes are great for cleaning and double as toilet paper if necessary (bring plastic bags to carry them home). Always carry a compass and map, a flashlight, waterproof matches, bug dope, sunscreen and a whistle.
Opportunities for Fun & Learning
Hiking provides the perfect opportunity to instill in children a love and respect for nature that will last a lifetime. Singing camp songs (quietly) or designing a simple nature scavenger hunt is a great way to engage their minds and teach them about the environment. Give them disposable cameras and let them take pictures for a scrapbook or have them carry a nature journal to write in or draw things they see. Don't forget to educate them about trail etiquette and the importance of leaving plants and animals undisturbed.
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