Updated: Nov 1, 2020
"Hey kids, how would you like to go walk uphill for a few hours?" Imagine if we prefaced an outing with our kids that started with that. I doubt we'd be getting any "heck yeah's". But seriously, if you're an avid hiker with children and you're frustrated with their lack of interest in hiking...read on, my friends!
Quick fact about me... I LOVE hiking and it was something my family never did with us kids growing up. As I started to have my own young ones, I couldn't wait to be that family with kids who begged for hikes, nature walks, and bike rides together every weekend. Turns out, it's a slow process getting my children to truly amp up about hiking. I'll be honest, it's not always a smooth hike and it can take a bit of patience. With a little guidance it is do-able and even possible to get your kids to willingly go and even (dare-I-say) like hiking a bit!
It isn't easy to "force" our kids to hike, especially in a world full of L.O.L. dolls and cool crafts. My young one is 5 and the older one is 8 years old. Hiking was something we didn't get flack on when they were small enough to pop into a carrier. Of course, complaining is par for the course when I tell them where we are going in advance. How long will it be, how hard is it?
We did NOT fancy hearing about it, so we didn't go out for hikes 'all the time' with them. Hiking doesn't have to be this extravagant thing. I learned that with kids, starting small and fun, often with little hiking games will get them to start enjoying the hike without realizing it. Besides, over planning any hike might leave you with unrealistic expectations of the outcome. Your kids may suddenly refuse to finish the hike or take the Zen out of being in nature. After much trial and error, my kids (most of the time) will be okay with hiking when asked. Here are my tips to build up to those long hikes and encourage kids to find joy in the outdoors.
1. Start small.
Don't assume your child can walk 3 or 4 miles because of that one time they went full boar on the family hike during vacation. Sometimes it's better to scale back so much, you're leaving room to get excited for more. Creating that demand for more will help your children be pumped for the next stroll in the woods.
2. Make it fun.
This seems like the most obvious tip ever! It's not. You wouldn't believe how often I hear about families being upset their child is complaining about hiking because we expect them to find walking in the woods enjoyable . It becomes fun when you teach them about their surroundings, make a game out of it like "I spy" or where's the next blaze. Making a treasure map, bird searching, or just having binoculars for spotting cool creatures is all fun. Don't expect your kid to come up with these ideas on their own (although they might).
3. Be prepared.
Snacks. Water. YES, PLEASE! I will say, having enough snacks and water can be plenty of a distraction from your kids noticing their feet hurting and legs getting tired. It may seem frustrating to stop and give your kids snacks every 5 seconds when you know they must have this boundless energy, waiting to unleash. Totally--I won't lie, this is always the most annoying part of any hike for me. I promise, get them their own pack, fill it with snacks and water (we use the camelback kids). I find that now they are getting bigger we might end up with this better, bigger Camelbak kids hydration pack. Bottom line: water, snack, good sneakers, comfy clothes, you're good to go!
4. Invite their friends.
Okay, a surefire way to get the kids feeling excited for a nature walk is to have their friends come too! Bonus, they get a play date, stay entertained on the hike, and you might even have a built in play date too if their parents come along for the ride.
5. Pick a good time to go.
Should be common sense, but don't expect your kids to be all chipper if they're in desperate need of a nap or quiet time midday or you're hoping to squeeze in a hike before lunch or dinner. Kids get hungry and even hungrier when they hike. Same with tiredness. You cannot expect your children to be happy happy joy joy if they're exhausted, overstimulated, then get all worked up over being 'forced' into a hike (which is how they will perceive it, trust me.. been there, done that).
6. Make an 'end goal'.
"Hey kids, would you like to have a fire and s'mores after our hike?" or "When we are done with the hike, let's go to the park!" or "enter fun thing here so they are pumped about finishing the hike". Sometimes having the end goal can make it sweeter. I will be candid, not all children work this way, with an end goal being a motivator for hiking, but I recommend trying this modes if other tricks do not work.
7. Don't call it hiking.
Call it a treasure hunt, bird hunt, animal search and find, mushroom discovery walk, forest bathing, or something fun like that! (Makes me want to go right now...)
8. Do less, do it often.
What I mean by this is, please do not go hiking 2 times a year and expect your children to be asking to go. You will need to start with smaller, more exciting hikes that you take them on more often. Once a week or twice a week for a summer will definitely solidify a hiking lust.
Use hiking as a way to stir up healthy conversation with your kids. Listen to them. Also, you're likely to have a few complaints at some point about their hiking ailments. Listen to those too. Let them be heard, then help them feel cured.
10. Let the kids lead. Give your kids an opportunity to actively participate in the choices made during the hike... like which direction or which hike they might want to do. Help them be active leaders here! It changes their perspective on the hiking itself and give them a feeling of importance in the decision making process.
I sure hope you give hiking or nature walking a try. Especially now, when the world's affairs cause us to feel a constant stress. Enjoy the fresh air, share new experiences outdoors with your family, and don't forget to be present!
be well & live free,