As the spring finds its way to the Western Hemisphere, many parents are looking for ways to connect with their children outdoors. Frankly we’ve all spent too much time inside through the course of the pandemic and the value of Vitamin D cannot be underestimated. At The Optimist Daily we are fans of fresh air and wide-open spaces, and we’ve shared before tips for hiking with your children. Now, for the parents of the toddler sized ones, it’s time to put your boots back on and get outside.
If you are the parent of little children, your hiking days don’t have to be put on hold. In fact, getting them out on the trail early is a great way to build a lifetime of adventures together. You may however have to shift your perception of what a hike means when the little ones are just finding their stride.
So…. how do you hike with toddlers!?!
Hiking with small children isn’t about getting from point A to B and back, it’s about exploring the whole way along the trail. Every rock, tree, and leaf is part of the hike, so enjoy it.
Flexible and Fun is the Key
Remember, this is an introduction to something wonderful with your little ones, but it won’t likely go as planned. Be open to new adventures from the get-go and learn a little each trip.
Give the kids some control
Whether it’s setting the pace or making a list of trees and rocks they want to spot along the way, give your children a sense of agency in the journey. Perhaps they can choose a toy or doll to show the trail to. The American Hiking Society reminds us that kiddos can certainly collect things along the trail but must always put them back when they leave.
Pack snacks and plenty of fluids
High quality treats are a must when it comes to outdoor adventures. Be sure to bring hydrating snacks like watermelon, fruit slices, and also some good protein and carbs. Make a game out of sipping water along the way as small curious children don’t often notice they are thirsty.
Layered clothing for yourself and your children
Adventures outside can have a lot of temperature variations, and kiddos need to be able to peel off layers of clothing as they get warmer. Remember that your body and your child’s body won’t react to temperature the same as they may get much warmer from running ahead. Wear brightly colored clothing to easily spot the kiddos and keep them safe.
Find a short, interesting hike and plan for lots of time
This isn’t the time for the long trek to skull rock you did with your friends in a pre-toddler raising era. Find a fun trail with variations in foliage, views, and even some wildlife and remember your hiking to teach them to hike, so be patient and explore.
Laugh, teach, sing and play games with your kids
Making up songs about “we’re going on an adventure” and “walking through the forest” can help propel creativity and engagement with the world around them. Children love to play “I Spy with My Little Eye” and talk about colors, sounds and textures of what they are seeing and learn to classify plants and animals. It is the perfect time to learn about trail etiquette, signs of weather changes, map reading and compass navigation. The hike itself is a game, so put on your playful trail guide pants and get silly.
Remember, Safety First
Learning to hike also means learning to be safe. Make sure every child has a small pack with a snack and their own water bottle. Attach a safety whistle to the zipper on their clothing and discuss what to do if they are separated. Teach them to use their whistle and to blow three sharp bursts, reminding them to use it to find you when they need you. Teach responsibility and communication early and you’ll have a lifetime of joyous hiking together.