by Jennifer Pharr Davis
“Mom, are we there yet?”
“How far is it?”
“Where are we going, anyways?”
“Do we have any snacks?”
“I’ve gotta use the bathroom.”
Family road trip? Well, yes. But these are also the same lines we hear on the trail when we go hiking with our kids. For the past eight years we have been actively hiking, camping, and backpacking as a family. And it’s been GREAT!
Most of the time.
We’ve made some mistakes, but we’ve also learned along the way and gathered up lots of sweet memories from spending time outdoors. We’re hopeful you can avoid our missteps and maximize your memories together by following these six tips for successful adventuring with kids:
1. PLAN YOUR TRIP TOGETHER
“Do you want to hike to a mountain summit or a waterfall?”
“Do you want to take a challenging hike, or bring binoculars and check out birds?”
“Do you want to pack Goldfish or trail mix?”
When kids help make the decisions for an upcoming hike, they feel ownership in the adventure and are less likely to complain about the distance, destination, and snacks. And if they do, you can remind them that it was their pick!
2. MAKE IT MORE THAN HIKING
Do your kids love to paint? Why not pack out a small watercolor kit and take breaks so that everyone can practice their art skills? Is your family musical? Why not try to come up with a song while you walk down the trail?
Hobbies make life more fun. They can also make hiking more fun. Play to the strengths of your kids and plan an activity that will highlight their creativity and personality.
3. EMBRACE ENVIRONMENTAL KNOWLEDGE
“What is that…and can I eat it?”
Identifying plants and animals on a hike can make the experience more fun, and it can be an important safety skill. Before hitting the trail, take some time to learn what environmental concerns might exist, and then teach your kids to identify potential hazards such as poison ivy, or scorpions.
Beyond staying safe and entertained, learning about the land and giving a name to the birds, trees, and wildflowers near your home will also help children feel comfortable and familiar in the outdoors.
4. PLAY A GAME
There’s nothing wrong with a little friendly competition, especially if it helps you get farther down the trail. We have employed everything from math and spelling games, to Geocache and “I Spy” adventures, to parkour and American Ninja Warrior obstacles along the route.
Games don’t have to be competitive (in your family) to help kids positively interact with the group while taking their mind off some of the challenge and repetition that comes with hiking.
5. EMPLOY PEER PRESSURE AND BRIBERY
Remember, this is a “hiking happy” blog, NOT a “good parenting” blog!
When it comes down to it, our kids are usually happier when we bring one of their friends along. And when the kids are happier, you are also happier, so it’s a small price for having a tag-along or two and throwing a few extra PB&Js in the daypack.
Speaking of food…gummies, chocolate, Doritos…you know what food motivates your kids to do just about anything, and I recommend packing it! You don’t have to use it, but if things get tough it’s good to have an ace up your sleeve and a few Wild Berry Skittles in your pack.
6. EXPECT SOME CHALLENGES
If and when your kids do NOT have fun, please know that you did not fail them as a parent or a hike planner. Walking is tiring, and mountains are challenging. It rains, and rocks and roots make it easy to trip.
While I prefer for my kids to be happy on-trail, that’s not why I take them hiking.
If the goal is to keep them happy, then we go to McDonalds. If the goal is to spend quality time together, to get exercise, to see ourselves as a part of nature, to observe our environment, to place a value on conservation, and to work through unexpected challenges as a family, then we’ll see you on the trail.