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Youth Education Manager
Nature provides us a sanctuary, a place where we can relax, recharge, and find peace, wonder, and inspiration. Now more than ever it’s important to take advantage of all that nature has to offer. As you take to the trails less traveled, be sure to continue to follow the CDC’s guidelines and practice to social distancing. Check out our 5 tips for socially responsible hiking during the COVID-19 threat to prepare for your next adventure and read on for 8 tips to help you share your love of the outdoors with your young friends while keeping them motivated, excited, and adventurous. Happy hiking!
1. Start off Small
Though it may be tempting to take off on a grand expedition – start small – especially if your child is not yet a seasoned adventurer. Try visiting AllTrails.com to find your perfect spot and pick a hike that isn’t too long or strenuous but creates opportunities for kid-sized adventures. Trails where kids can clamber over rocks, investigate tidepools, or balance on fallen logs will hold your child’s interest no matter how long or short the hike. Once you work your way up to longer and more difficult trails, break up your hike to short segments to keep your little ones motivated. Incorporate small challenges like timing how long it takes you get to a large boulder in the distance or pressing on just a bit longer to reach the stream up ahead. Most importantly, remember its about the journey not the destination. If your young adventurers are more excited about what’s underneath a rock at the beginning of the trail head than reaching the top, embrace these teachable moments – there will always be a next time.
2. Packing 101
Work with your child to pack their own small knapsack of essentials. Make sure they have items to keep them warm or cool, dry, hydrated, and fed. Dress for the weather and make sure everyone is wearing appropriate footwear. If your little ones will be scrambling over rocks and logs make sure they have a closed toe shoe with a good grip, and if going near water opt for something waterproof. Make sure everyone has enough water, pack extra layers, socks, a hat or a bandana, plenty of snacks, and don’t forget your first aid kit! Check out REI’s 10 essentials to learn more. Ensuring your child’s basic needs are met will help release their nature explorer superpowers!
3. Safety Rules
Before you embark on your adventure make sure to lay out some ground rules. Set boundaries that are comfortable for you as a caregiver while still allowing your child the independence to explore on their own. Pick destinations in the landscape that your kids can hike ahead to on their own and come up with a family plan for what to do if you get separated. Safety whistles are small, can be tied to your child’s pack, and are the perfect way for your child to alert you to their location if they get lost.
4. Slow it Down
While you may be focused on reaching the top to soak in the spectacular views, or moving fast to get your heart rate pumping, your young hikers may not have the same goals or sense of urgency. Children are born explorers and with so much to discover outside they will naturally want to stop and examine things. Slow it down and take it in, listen to the wind rustling through the trees, search for wildlife, feel the leaves crunch beneath your feet, stop to smell the wildflowers, and make sure everyone in your group has time to get their wilderness fill.
5. Keep it Interesting
Children have a much shorter attention span that adults and although you may be having a great time enjoying the outdoors, younger hikers may require a bit more inspiration. Rediscover your inner child, be creative and keep things fun for the entire family. If your child bores easily try incorporating nature games and challenges to keep things interesting. Count squirrels, create a scavenger hunt, sing songs, play trail games, practice bird calls, turn over rocks, or hunt for fungi. For older children incorporate mapping, nature journaling, or apps like iNaturalist. Explore and play together with nature as your guide.
6. Take Breaks
Hiking requires a lot of energy no matter how strenuous the trail. Keep your child happy and energized by taking numerous small breaks to hydrate and snack or to just relax and breathe. Use your snack stops to break up longer hikes and keep your adventurers motivated by setting goals like stopping for a snack break once you reach the fork in the trail or the boulder up ahead. Take breaks when your child needs a rest and travel at a pace that keeps you both motivated.
7. Leave No Trace
As with any nature adventure, be sure to leave no trace. Always carry out what you carry in and dispose of your waste properly. Exploring is encouraged but leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them. Adhere to the popular saying ‘take only pictures, leave only footprints’ and respect wildlife by avoiding loud voices and noises and keeping your distance.
8. Have Fun!
Manage your expectations and realize that hiking with your kids may not start out as the grand nature adventure you may have been imagining. It will take practice and it won’t go perfect every time, but it can be a great bonding experience and will create lasting memories – one way or the other! Expect the unexpected, embrace dirt and mud, encourage exploration, and uncover the wonders of the natural world together.
Here’s to creating treasured trail memories and exciting outdoor adventures with your young explorers.