Today I would like to welcome Dionna, who has written a guest post on tips for hiking with toddlers. Dionna is a lawyer turned work at home mama of an amazing son. You can normally find Dionna over at Code Name: Mama where she shares information, resources, and her thoughts on natural parenting and life with a toddler. I had a guest post there last week. So when you’re done reading about Dionna’s ideas to make hiking fun for your little ones, come check out my post on helping your little ones learn about local wild plants.
I used to love to hike. When my husband and I lived in New Mexico, we hiked all over the scrubby mountains near our home. I loved the exercise and the feeling of achievement when we finished a hike, but even more important to me was the chance to see wildlife and scenery far removed from my desk job, to feel a connection to the Earth, and to spend some quiet time with my best friend. Hiking is one of the things I have missed the most since we moved away from New Mexico.
I want to pass on a love of hiking and the outdoors to my 2.5 year old, Kieran. But in order to do that, I need to make sure our hiking adventures are fun for him. His interests and motivations are different from mine: whereas I wanted escape from a desk, he might be more interested in the freedom to play in the dirt. Following are five things I’ve tried to keep in mind when hiking with Kieran, so that he will look forward to our hikes as much as I do.
1. Slow Down, You Move Too Fast: you might enjoy hiking for the exercise aspects, but your little ones will be more apt to enjoy it if they are allowed to set the speed. Let them walk at a comfortable pace – they aren’t trying to burn calories. Encourage them to stop and examine the flora and fauna, the scenery should be at least half of the fun of getting outdoors together. Talk about the new sounds and smells, touch the bark on the trees and the dirt under your feet. Make all of their senses come alive.
2. Bring Food: Little ones’ bodies are wired for grazing – their energy levels (and their moods) will be better with frequent small snacks. Plus, snacking will give everyone a reason to stop and admire the scenery. Some of our favorite hiking snacks are apples and peanut butter, trail mix (of course), sandwiches, granola bars, and melon. And of course remember to bring lots of water, at least one big water bottle for each person.
3. Make it a Learning Experience, in a Fun Way: Read up a little bit about local wildlife and/or vegetation. Pick a common bird several days before your hike – listen to its call with your child, look at pictures, talk about where you might see it. Then keep an eye and an ear out for it while you’re hiking. Or find pictures of some common local vegetation. See if you can learn (with your child) what poison ivy looks like, and then look for it on your hike. If your little one finds something familiar on your hike, she is sure to get excited about her discovery.
While you are hiking, talk to your little one about being environmentally friendly. Remember the adage “take only pictures, leave only footprints.”
4. Combine Hiking with Another Favorite Activity: If you’re worried that your bookworm won’t like the trails, bring the books along! You know what your child likes to do, find a way to incorporate it into the first few hiking adventures. For book lovers, check out some new books on the great outdoors and read them at different points along the trail. For crafty kids, bring along some paper and crayons and have them do crayon rubbings. For sports enthusiasts, bring along a frisbee or ball and stop to play catch after lunch.
Other ideas to combine different activities with hiking: Let your child bring a camera to take pictures. Put a favorite doll in your child’s backpack for company. Bring musical instruments and have a sing along. Stop to draw pictures of your favorite flowers or trees. Digitally record bird calls to play back and identify later.
5. Keep it Simple and Be Safe: No child will have fun if the hike is too long or dangerous. Follow basic safety rules for your area. Don’t plan long hikes, unless you want to carry your child most of the way. Bring a first aid kit and wear sunblock and appropriate clothing and footwear. Watch the weather and hike early in the day to avoid excessive heat.
Please, look at your local parks guide for more detailed safety rules and to find out if there are local hazards you should be aware of, this list is in no way an exhaustive list of safety measures for hikers.
Have you hiked with your little ones? What makes hiking fun for your kids?