Parents worldwide are holding dear to their children and sanity; by the thousands, we are flocking to local and national parks in search of some understanding from Mother Nature. Here in California, we are following in John Muir’s footsteps who wrote: “Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communion of life and death, their joyous inseparable unity.”
While we may have prolific hopes for our family hikes this fall, in actuality they often turn out to be quite a struggle. Toddlers beg to be held and the older kids yearn for their favorite toy or device left back in the car. Here are a few tips and tricks that have reshaped my family’s hiking routines over the last few years to make our family time in nature less stressful and more enjoyable.
Starting the list with one of my favorites! Arrive before your kids and set up plastic Easter eggs along the trail. I chose to leave them empty and award a prize at the end for fear of bugs and melting sweets. Each kid got a bag and enthusiastically searched along the trail for nearly three miles without a break.
Have you heard of Hash running clubs? Ok-so the leader runs ahead and makes a trail for the rest of the running club to follow. Bring out a little bag of your own flour and try this with your family! If your kids have read Hansel and Gretel lately, they’re sure to be excited to live out the story sans the scary witch.
Sit and notice. Bringing along a clipboard, paper, and pencil is lightweight with mind expanding impacts. Choose a sprawling tree or bridge to sketch together. Sharing a moment to pause on the trail and appreciate all the details of nature with you kids is a moment you’ll both treasure.
Ceremonial Snack Break
You know the ones-those snacks that your kids beg for in the grocery store or that donut shop that’s always calling your name as you merge onto the highway; stop and scoop up a top-ranking treat to enjoy together at the midway or end of your hike. Some parents choose to use a treat such as this as a bribe to get the kids in gear, and that totally works, but I usually bust it out as a surprise to praise the work on the trail in strenuous moments and dedication on the trail. Kids are sure to remember hiking as a rewarding experience if they are praised for their efforts. Mama, you deserve a reward too!
Kids nowadays see their parents as amateur photographers. Why not let them join in on the fun? The photography options are endless: old phone, disposable camera, or kid cameras, to name a few. Throw one into your travel bag and let your kids uniquely capture nature. You can use the images to print or create a show to share with relatives.
Binoculars bestow a sense of power for kids. Tots to teenagers cherish holding and using a resource that allows them to view an object far better than their parents. Prompt opportunities to boost your kids’ visual confidence throughout your hike by asking what they see far off and appreciate their guidance. It’s beautiful to let your kids lead the way.
Throwing together a little explorer kit can amplify your kids’ interest and engagement in hiking tenfold. In our bag you’ll find: magnifying glass, a compass, swiss army knife, flashlight, whistle, and band-aids. These few carry-alongs will revamp your family hike into an adventurous expedition.
Local Nature Book
A nature book featuring local plants and animals sets up a family BINGO game while hiking. I recommend reviewing the book beforehand so you can keep your eye out for creatures included in the book. If you have older kids, you could compete for the most animal spottings to indulge the competitive siblings.
Stuffed Forest Animal Tag-along
Toddlers are tricky on the trails but bringing along a stuffed forest friend adds comfort to a new outdoor scene. Asking: “Would your forest friend like to eat this?” or “Do you think your forest friend wants to play with this funny looking seed pod?” creates a connected experience on a sweet, toddler level.
Painted Rock Presents
Painted rocks are all the rage right now, well at least in my little world. The kits are constantly sold out at my local craft store and for good reason. We’ve noticed several on the trail by my house and it got me thinking about painting a few with my kids and bringing them along to place on the trail with the kids. We can come back and find them another day or set up a painted rock search for another family.
Good ‘ol Fashion Scavenger Hunt
This is an activity for all ages. You can simply draw a picture of butterflies, leaves, and squirrels for your toddler or make a list of the scientific names of So Cal’s trees for your teenager. Scavenger hunts are the best way to stop and notice your natural surroundings and collaborate as a family.