Sunday, May 27, 2012

Hiking activities, games are age dependent

The types of games and activities you select for a day hike with kids – or if you select any at all – depend largely upon the child’s age. That’s because as children grow, their interactions with you and with nature change.

Infants in baby carriers largely are passive passengers. While you must be aware of and tend to their needs as you would any infant, no special games or activities really are necessary for the trail. They’ll be happy to see the sights around them, play with the back of your sun hat, and sleep in the gentle breeze created by your steady pace.

For my son, that passivity changed sometime during his first year when he began to string words together into sentences and started talking with me. His passivity totally ended when he came down from the carrier sometime during his third year. Toddlers in the carrier generally are easy to amuse with songs and simply pointing out the names of various trees, birds and other objects in nature. To them, the outdoors is still all brand new. Once toddlers begin walking on their own and through their preschool years, however, they’ll flit from point to point, touching and examining everything around them. Engagement with them becomes increasingly important so that they behave and do not become bored. This is an excellent opportunity for adults to employ games and activities that build their skills and love for nature while strengthening the parent-child bond.

Most elementary school kids generally are able to amuse themselves, especially if a friend comes along on the hike, but you shouldn’t pass on this chance to continue developing their cognitive, observational and creative skills. The games now can become more sophisticated, and they’ll likely want to play a variety of them (unlike the preschooler who usually likes to do the same game over and over). Interacting with your child remains as important as ever so you can lay a good foundation to ensure communication is possible during coming teen years.

Teenagers generally will become more interested in the destination rather than the journey, taking a more adult view of hiking. They still will enjoy games and activities but are likely to be more selective about which they play. Most will prefer activities that revolve around their interests, such as drawing or journaling. A good way to keep teens involved in the hike and interacting with you is to give them leadership roles and responsibilities: Allow them to select the trail, to help plan the trip, to navigate during the hike, to locate rest spots. You’re now developing their hiking skills, teaching them the fundamentals of the sport so that once they become adults, they will be excellent hikers … who in turn take their own children down long trails into the wilds.

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