If you’re anything like us, most of your hikes don’t actually involve that much planning. You pick a trail, you drive there, and you wander through the wilderness for an hour or so. It’s pretty self-explanatory.
But when you’ve got a few kids on your hands and endless hours to kill, a little structure is bound to help! Younger kids can be easily bored, after all, so the simple act of working a family hike into smaller segments, with ample stops for tired feet, can keep the adventure feeling fresh. When the skies are blue and the sun is smiling your way, it would be a shame not to seize the day for all its worth!
This guide will serve as a sort of “Choose your own adventure,” meant to support your family in play and exploration when a little inspiration is needed. Enjoy!
Remember to take breaks:
Kids have a lot of energy. That is a fact! But everyone who has spent more than a few hours out with a child has probably heard the phrase “My feet hurt” or “I’m tired” more than once. While we do want to do our best to stretch kids both physically and mentally, we also want to build up positive feelings around outdoor exploration. Understanding this, it is important that we give them some time to simmer down and recoup every now and again.
For most adults, a proper hiking pace should generally allow for an hour of movement without rest. When dealing with smaller children, we suggest narrowing that done to half hour intervals, simply to gauge their comfort levels, before encouraging more extended activity. For kids under the age of 5, you’ll want to plan on a shorter hike (a mile or two), with more emphasis on activities during longer breaks.
Mix things up a bit:
While plenty of kids may be satisfied simply wandering through the wilderness, some of them tend to get terribly bored, terribly easily. In order to keep their interest piqued, consider including an activity or two (or three) to liven things up; both during and between breaks! Just remember to pack any needed supplies before you get moving.
- Environmental Story Time
- Natural Texture Exploration
- You’ll want to pack a notebook and some colored pencils/crayons for this. Simply instruct the kids pick out a few leaves, set a piece of paper on top of each individually, and lightly color over the object. This should leave you with an image of each leaf’s veins and shape, and a wonderful piece of art to hang on the fridge! Just be sure to never ‘pick’ anything unless you have explicit permission to do so. Old leaves laying on the ground work just as well!
Any time activities:
- Plant/Rock/Bird Identification
- There is a regional field guide for almost everything, so simply grab one and get to work! Children under the age of 8 may have extra difficulty with this and may need some extra help, but it is a worthwhile effort regardless. And who knows? This may just lead them to their passion.
- I Spy
- Scavenger Hunt
- Before you leave for the hike, write up a list of things you would see in the woods (a squirrel, a knot in a tree, a white flower, etc.) and instruct the kids to check off each item they see as the hike progresses. This will keep their minds both busy and entertained as you make your way through the woods.
- 20 Questions
Don’t forget the necessities:
Now that you’ve got your activities picked out and ready to go, it’s time to get everything all set up and packed! Each activity listed in this article is something that can easily fit inside a backpack, making for a heck of a portable adventure. The other items you’ll want to bring may seem pretty obvious, but we know we’ve forgotten them a time or two… So be sure to bring ample drinking water, snacks for longer hikes, and sunscreen. If you want to be extra cautious, a few bandages and some antiseptic are always handy, so you may consider including these as well. And if you’re hiking near or to a body of water, it is our experience that someone will step in a mud puddle or insist on getting their feet wet, and someone will put their shoes on prematurely, leaving them with cold, damp socks. Because of this, we suggest tossing an extra pair of socks in the bag for each child (or even the adults) and a Ziplock baggie.
Above all else, remember that every moment is a teachable one! Here at Legacy Toys, we love to see happy, healthy families at play. Since engagement with the environment is a great way to exercise kids mentally, physically, and creatively, we will always encourage families to get out and explore together!
So stay safe, have fun, and get your hike on!