A love of hiking is one of the greatest gifts you can offer your kids, and it sets them up for a lifetime of outdoor fun. But as any outdoor-loving parent can tell you, getting little ones on the trail takes a bit of extra planning. We sat down with the founder of Hike it Baby (and mother of Mason), Shanti Hodges, to get her top tips for transforming your kids into happy hikers, and ensuring that your next family hike is memorable for all the right reasons.
Start ‘em Young
Shanti believes that one of the best ways to get kids hooked on hiking is to start them early. Put them in a pack before they can walk, and when they’re able, choose hikes that allow for their gradual participation. As you progress, try to put yourself in their pint-sized shoes: Consider their limited attention spans, short legs, and need for frequent snacks and rest breaks. Also keep in mind that their priority is to play, rather than reach the summit; that amazing view might have to wait for another day.
Excite Through Storytelling
At the beginning of every Hike it Baby hike, Shanti encourages participants to start off their adventure with a story. Maybe the trail leads into an enchanted forest where fairies dwell, or perhaps the park is a magical kingdom where wild creatures speak to one another in whispers that can only be heard by listening very carefully. No matter the story, engage your kids in its creation, and remember that stories can excite and motivate kids, while helping them stay focused and engaged throughout the hike.
Dash for Trash
Keep your kids occupied while instilling leave-no-trace principles and cleaning up the trail: A Dash for Trash is a win-win-win situation. It’s simple, too: Give each kid a trash bag and offer the reward of a treat (to be shared!) to the youngster who collects the most garbage. You can even incorporate this into your scavenger hunt.
Bring Toys, Lots of Them
Though it’s tempting to try to gamify every aspect of the hike, it is important that children remain focused on the actual experience of hiking; it’s this appreciation and connection that instills a lifelong love of the outdoors. One of Shanti’s favorite strategies is to bring simple toys and trinkets (bubble bottles are perfect) that can be used as a temporary distraction; a few floating bubbles will turn any temper tantrum into smiles and laughter.
Create a Scavenger Hunt
Kids love the feeling of accomplishment associated with finding natural treasures and ticking them off a list, making a scavenger hunt a perfect way to engage them with the outdoors. It’s especially fun if it results in a shared project or game, like building a rock cairn, a stick sculpture, or a pine cone critter. You can dream up your own hunt, or print off the one we’ve created here.