Need a change of perspective? Go climb a mountain or traverse a woodsy trail! Family hikes of any length, of any difficulty, and at any time of year can be rewarding, especially when everyone's prepared. In addition to helping kids develop a lifelong connection to the natural world, hiking is a wonderful fitness activity to do as a family. Also fantastic? It requires minimal planning or financial investment.
My husband and I aren't great athletes, but we've taken our kids hiking since we adopted them as preschoolers. We feel that hiking has taught our kids to trust that we can handle the unexpected as a team. Now our seasoned little hikers, ages 8 and 9, lace their own boots, carry their own packs, and feel proud when they make it all the way to the top. They're even learning leadership skills and elementary first aid.
Here are some lessons we've learned on the trail. We hope they'll help you!
1. Find a family-appropriate hike. Researching hikes for your family's ability and age level will help you know what to expect. We always choose a route that allows shortcuts in case someone's little legs get tired. A winter bonus: steep, smooth descents can allow kids to slide down on their bottoms!
2. Choose clothing carefully. Sturdy boots and well-cushioned socks help keep everyone's feet dry and comfortable. Non-cotton clothing wicks moisture, an important consideration in damp New England. Dressing in layers helps bodies cope with quick climate changes, and a hat with a brim keeps glare out of eyes and raindrops off glasses. For snowshoe hikes, don't forget gloves. I prefer thin ones that I don't have to remove when I need to zip up someone's jacket.
3. Be prepared. The Appalachian Mountain Club recommends the following: backpack, map, hat, compass, extra layer, rain gear, water, food, matches, flashlight, pocket knife, and first aid kit. My family also brings a camera and a bit of toilet paper, and for longer hikes, I use hiking poles to ease the load on my feet.
4. Model optimal behavior. If you'd like your kids not to complain, don't complain! If you want them not to litter, don't. Wear sunblock? Keep a hat on? Stay hydrated? You get the idea.
5. Check in with your little hikers. Your kids might have different physical needs than you, so keep an eye on their comfort, but don't nag. Are they thirsty? Hungry? Warm enough? We've found that addressing our own needs is a simple way to give our kids permission to address theirs.
Best of luck out there. Maybe we'll see you. We'll be the family of four covered in mud, with goofy hats and big smiles! And if you have other great hiking tips to share, feel free to do so in the comments below!
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