Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Getting reluctant kids excited about hiking

"I forgot! I DO like hiking!"
Kids can be fickle creatures. Their lack of knowledge and experience in the world often makes them cautious about suggested activities.

You want to sway kids to at least entertain the notion that a hike might be fun. If they hit the trail thinking a long stretch of boredom awaits them, they’ll make the experience miserable for both themselves and for you.

To entice kids, children, let them help plan the hike. They can help select the destination, trace out the trail on a map, choose which snacks to bring, and so on.

For younger kids, children, find coloring pages about hiking on the Internet that you can print for free (just type “hiking coloring pages” in a search engine for images). Coloring pages showing children having fun and some of the scenery on the trial often gets kids excited about the ad-venture ahead.

Show them pictures of interesting animals, plants and rock formations they might see on the trail. Photos taken by other hikers of a trail usually can be found online. Remember, though, that flowers are seasonal and most animals prefer not to be seen, so some of the photos you’ll find may not represent what you’ll actually observe along the trail when you plan to hike it.

You also can get a library book about hiking, showing all of the fun that can be had on such an adventure. If your library uses the Dewey Decimal System (and most do), you can find hiking books aimed at kids in the 796s of the juvenile nonfiction section. If hitting a gem or fossil trail, pick up a book about rockhounding in the 552s.

Children also can make their own hiking gear. Trekking poles and a utility belt to hold a water bottle and snacks don’t have to be purchased but can be constructed using materials you probably have in the yard or garage.

Don’t call it a “hike.” Some kids think a “hike” means a death march through boring countryside. Instead, you are going on an “adventure,” an “expedition” or a “trek” – or say “we’re going to see a waterfall at the end of a trail.” For really hard to crack nuts say, “We’re walking to a pool where we’ll swim.” Now you’re not hiking but swimming, from the child’s point of view. Finally, express your own wonderment and enthusiasm about nature. For younger children, it soon will be infectious.

NOTE: This post originally appeared as a guest blog on Tales of a Mountain Mama on Jan. 25, 2012.

Read more about day hiking with children in my guidebook Hikes with Tykes series.