I love kids and, obviously, I love hiking. So naturally one of my favourite things is sharing my love of the outdoors with the next generation of potential nature-lovers.
Unfortunately though, in the age of Playstation and Wii, it isn’t always easy to convince the little darlings to tear themselves away from the screen and get outside for a walk. So I’ve put together a few ideas for how to coax them off the couch, and how to keep them entertained once out on the trail.
Be mindful of their comfort zone
Firstly, consider whether or not your children are used to walking. If they would normally travel in the car with you, even when you’re only going to the convenience store at the end of the street, then even a very short bushwalk is going to be a shock to their system. Before you think about hiking with your kids, create a habit of walking instead of driving in your day-to-day life. The transition to hiking will be easier from there.
Once they’re away from the creature comforts of home, you’re there to show them that hiking isn’t all that bad. Bring along yummy snacks to share and make sure they have enough water. I know I’m at my grumpiest when I’m hungry and thirsty… Kids are no different.
Encourage them to bring a friend along and they’ll immediately be more interested. They’ll talk and play together along the way, which is a brilliant way for them to bond and will make the walk more fun for them. Next time, they’ll be more likely to consider heading out with just you for company.
When choosing your walks, make sure you start with trails that are short and flat. Most importantly, don’t rush. You’re trying to give the kids an appreciation for nature. If they want to stop and play with every leaf or fallen branch they find along the way, not only should you let them, but you should probably join in. They might even teach you a thing or two about really being present and immersing yourself in nature.
“Muh-uuuhhmm, I’m booorrred!”
There’s nothing more likely to cut short a walk with the kids than the dreaded whining, so you really need to do whatever possible to make sure they’re not bored.
For a start, try to put yourself in their shoes and choose a walk with a feature that they’ll find interesting. Wildlife, caves, mine-shafts, and waterfalls are obvious examples, but children might be just as interested in a big hollow tree, or one that has fallen and can be used to cross a river or creek.
Giving the kids a selection of walks to choose from and letting them make the final decision will engage them instantly. You might also want to consider putting them in charge of a map and compass, or GPS.
Younger kids might like to stop and draw pictures of their surroundings or play some games along the trail. A simple game of “I Spy” can be fun, or with a bit more preparation you could make bingo cards featuring local flora and fauna to cross off as you hike. The latter can be an excellent way to teach children to take more notice of the smaller details of a forest, which are often the most fascinating parts.
For older kids, turn your bushwalk into a photography adventure. Use the time to learn and practice new photography techniques, or set a challenge to capture images of certain objects in new and creative ways.
Whatever you do, don’t tell them they’re doing something healthy
There’s no doubt that getting the kids out for a walk will have all kinds of physical and mental health benefits, but they’re probably not going to see that as a good thing. Make it incidental. Make it fun. Never call it exercise.
The backup plan
If the plan fails, and the kids return home disappointed at not seeing what they’d hoped, this dad provides an inspirational, if not completely ethical, “Plan B”. It’s certainly one way to keep the kids looking forward to their next adventure.
Do you have any other tips for getting kids out in nature? Or stories about sharing nature with the next generation? If you have anything to say, please let us know by commenting below.