If you enjoy the outdoors and are a frequent hiker, you may decide it is time to bring your children along for the fun. There are many hiking safety tips you will need to follow before treking out onto the mountain to begin your adventure.
Incorporating your children into your fitness schedule is easier than one may think. With products like jogger strollers and kid bike seats you can still spend time with your children, maintain your level of fitness, and be a positive example of fitness for your children.
The one downfall with these products is that you are the only one doing the exercise. Did you know that the percentage of U.S. children who are overweight has tripled in the last twenty years? Did you know that 43% of adolescents watch more than two hours of television each day? Did you know that children who are obese at age six have a 50% chance of being obese for life and that number increases to 75% for those who are obese at thirteen?
It turns out that those days on the trails in college were some of the best spent of those four years. At least I learned something useful.
With family hiking everyone can be active. If you have never stepped foot on a trail, you will need to make some preparations. But if, like myself, you were a hiker in the past, your biggest challenge will be the alteration of your hiking expectations. You are not going to go as far or as fast, but you will be surprised at how enjoyable it still is. In fact, in many ways it is more rewarding because you can experience nature through the eyes of your child. A child sees nature differently than an adult, not simply because it is new and exciting, but because they are literally closer to the ground. Each little pebble, insect, leaf, and wildflower is right there to see and touch and smell. And they will stop to see and touch and smell them all which is precisely why your expectations must match your own child's ability and personality.
One necessity you must consider prior to your hike is a family discussion on safety. Establish some rules such as staying on the trail, how to read the trail/tree markings, staying in sight of an adult, or assigning a hiking buddy. For children who are able to venture a bit on their own, the Hug-A-Tree program suggests giving each child a plastic whistle to blow in case they feel that they may be lost.
Next you need to properly pack for your hike. Choose brightly colored clothing for both you and your children. Sneakers should preferably have ankle support. Whether or not you invest in hiking boots is solely up to you. Sneakers have worked just fine for my boys. As children get to be about four or five, they may want to carry their own packs. A small daypack is fine. Fill it with a water bottle, snack, hat, poncho or garbage bag, jacket and whistle; just remember to keep it light. Adults' packs, in addition to the items in the kids packs, should contain Children's Tylenol, extra food and water, pocket knife, map and compass.
Parents of very young children may want to invest in a kid carrier. Look for one with adjustable padded shoulder and waist straps. Some even stand on their own which makes for a great high chair on the go.
When are kids ready to do it on their own? It truly depends on the child. Our oldest, the nature-nut, did a four-miler at age three. Our youngest took much longer, but we discovered it was not so much that he was tired, but that it was just not that intriguing to him. When we added some things to match his interests, the hikes became more enjoyable for all those involved.
What sorts of things can you do to keep your kids' senses and minds involved? Focus on the hike as an adventure. One idea is to plan a scavenger hunt of items you would like to see, hear, smell or touch while you are there. Before the hike your family could work together on compiling this checklist and then let the kids check items off the list as they find them. A similar idea that requires no preplanning is to play a game of "I Spy" while on the hike. Have family members take turns spotting interesting colors, shapes, or sounds, and let others guess the mystery item.
Something that my children love about hikes is that we allow them to each take a disposable camera. They snap photos of interesting sights along the way. They cannot wait to get their film developed so they can keep adding to their nature albums.
Our youngest is quite the singer and storyteller. A lot of times he will request us to make up a story as we are walking. Think campfire tales! As the boys have gotten older, we round robin the stories with each of us adding a sentence or two as the story progresses. They also enjoy singing as they hike. They especially like those that resemble army marching songs.
Most of our hikes involve water in some way. The trails either follow a creek, have a waterfall, or finish with a swimming hole. Kids love the water; whether it is fishing, swimming, or just skipping stones, finding trails with water definitely makes it more enjoyable for the kids.
Finally, remember to teach your kids to respect nature. You should stick to established trails, and "pack out what you bring in." As much as your child may want to take that unique rock, acorn, leaf, or flower, teach them that they are but visitors in the wilderness. On one of our favorite trails is a plaque that reads, "Leave only footprints, take only memories." Many memories indeed. Happy trails!
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