Monday, April 16, 2018

Hiking With Kids

Hey, remember me? I used to blog here every single day of the week.
Well, here I am for my twice-yearly post.
I shall post again in... November, if you're lucky.

About four years ago, another mom invited me to join her on a weekly "Mom and Kids Hike." They would meet at a trailhead and hike with their kids.
I literally had a panic attack at the thought. Hiking. WITH KIDS? With no husbands? In the mountains where there is no cellphone service?!
Was this woman actually insane?

But compare that to us last year! Last year we invited a few friends up to hike with us and one woman said, "I wish we hiked more, but it's just so much easier to go to the park instead."
And I straight-up scorned her.
Hiking in the mountains is NOT harder than going to the park. To go to the park you have to pack sunscreen, waterbottles, and snacks. Going to the mountains requires all the same things. It is the same as going to the park.
That's a big change of attitude in four years!

In fact, last summer the kids and I averaged about 3 hikes a week.
Thrice a week! Hiking in the mountains! With kids and no husband!
To be fair, I went from having 3 year old twins to having 6 year old twins, but I do have 2 more kids besides! Aaaand, to be double-fair, I use the phrase "hiking" broadly, as you might discover if you read on.

So if you find hiking with your kids is basically a nightmare or you're afraid to take kids hiking, here are some things that helped my kids fall in love with the mountains- and as we all know, if your kids love something, they're much more willing to do it without whining.

1. Buy them good gear.
This seems silly, I know. Your kids should be able to love the outdoors without hi-tech gizmos and gadgets. But they deserve the basics. Good shoes, a backpack, a water bottle.
On many, many occasions friends have asked us, "Will you take us hiking with you?" They saw our pictures (which are phenomenally beautiful, if I do say so myself) and they thought, "I want to go there and I want my kids to experience that!"
And they show up at the trailhead in flipflops!
10 minutes into the hike, all the children are crying. Your kids are going to want to climb rocks, ford rivers, and sometimes even walk downhill on sandy ground! Gasp! They will slip, slide, get hurt, sore, and be angry if they don't have good shoes on.
This is in no way an advertisement or even an affiliate link. Buy your kids Keens. They're sturdy, close-toed sandals that have grippy bottoms, can get wet, and will last through every single one of your children. And having gear (like a hiking backpack or a special waterbottle) is more fun for kids. They like having hiking gear. "Get your backpacks, we're going hiking!" and they know which bag is theirs, what fun things are inside (field guides, pocket knives, etc), and they like it.

2. Make them carry everything. 
Hiking sucks for Moms because you're carrying all your whiny kids' crap. Stop doing that. Every single child should have a backpack on, and that backpack should have a waterbottle and 1 billion snacks (more about that in a minute).
Yes. Your two year old should have a backpack.
Maybe your two-year old's backpack is empty, but he is getting used to carrying it.

3. It's not about the destination.
It's not. It's not. You will not make it to your destination so stop even thinking about it.
If you go on a grueling hike as an adult and you make it to the apex of the mountain, you feel a sense of accomplishment. Your child feels a sense of betrayal.
You forced them to be miserable and all they got was an amazing view? For most children- that's not worth it.
The hike itself needs to be fun. The hike needs to be fun, or you'll never make any destination. You will give up because everything is terrible. (Esp. your child.)
On more than one occasion, we've gotten 3/4 of the way through a hike and my kids have announced that they were ready to turn around.
Now that we have taught them to keep pushing forward, I sometimes say "No, let's power through, we are almost there!"
But most of the time, I say "Okay! Let's turn around!" It drives my husband crazy. He wants that destination.
But I don't want the kids to think of hiking as a chore. It's a treat! If you forced your child to eat an extra ice cream even though they didn't want it- it would fast become torture.
Hiking is like ice cream. Leave them wanting more!

4. Let your child choose their own adventure.
Along the same note as above: The purpose of hiking with kids is not to get to the destination. It's not even to hike, really! It's to help your child fall in love with the outdoors.
Hiking is a great opportunity to get outside, get moving, and go somewhere new. But when we "hike," we probably spend 1/2 -2/3 of the time- not hiking. Instead, the kids are exploring a pool in the river, climbing a big rock or tree by the side of the trail, or picking dandelions and blowing their seeds around.
 Sometimes we go "on a hike" and make it a quarter mile from the trailhead. Then the kids want to stop and build a fort.
Let them do that. That's why you stuck a book in your backpack. (Bonus Tip: Stick a book in your backpack.) If you spend 3 hours in the mountains and you never made it past that first quarter mile, who cares? When your kids discover that they love to be outside and explore nature, it's a lot easier to say "Let's hike a little farther- I think there's a cool waterfall ahead!"
When they love exploring nature, they'll want to see that waterfall- even if the climb is harder than a stroll around the block.

5. Bring 1 Billion Snacks.
This might be common sense to everyone but me- but when we first started hiking, I didn't bring anything but a spare diaper. I would think, "We are only going to be out for an hour. They wouldn't have a snack if we were at home."
No. Bring snacks.
First, it's a lot more tiring hiking than being at home. They will be hungry. Hungry kids are terrible kids.
Second, snacks are amazing bribery. Every time my kids want to stop for a break, I say "Run ahead and find the perfect spot for us to stop for a snack." They usually go another  eighth to quarter mile looking for just the right fallen log. Then everyone sits and has a 5 minute break, eats a snack, and is ready to go again.
Third, hiking snacks are special. I don't generally let the kids eat fruit leathers, granola bars, applesauce pouches, or mini bags of chips at home. Those are hiking-only snacks. My kids are willing to put up with a lot in order to get those snacks.
And saying "There's a chocolate chip cookie waiting in the car for every boy that gets to the top without whining!" is always helpful, too.

6. Hike New Places. Hike Old Places.
I think every other hike we go on is a new hike. We are blessed to live in an amazing place with lots of recreation areas around us. If you aren't in such a place- you just do what you have to do. But hiking familiar hikes has a lot of benefits and so does hiking a new trail.
Hiking somewhere familiar helps your child form a bond and a friendship with a place. On certain beloved hikes, my kids spend the whole time yelling things like "Hurry, the magical trees that take you back in time are just ahead!" or "We've almost made it to Friendship Spring!" or "Let's run ahead and wait for Mom in the Secret Ninja Campout!"
(Those are all actual places that they "discovered" and named.) It is fun to visit in different seasons and see familiar nature change. It is fun to bring friends and introduce them to the places we love.
But new hikes and locations are an adventure! And they give us the chance to discover a new favorite Secret Copse of Trees.

7. Get off the Sidewalk and Away From People. 
Sidewalks are boring.
When you search on the internet for "Kid Friendly Hikes" everything that comes up is paved.
I know why people think that's kid-friendly. It's so you can push strollers.
That's boring for your kid and it sucks for you. If you can, leave your stroller at home and go somewhere terrible instead. Yes, that's right.
Everything that you think is terrible about hiking is extremely fun for children. Climbing rocks? Wading through mud? Battling your way through vines?
Sounds like a super fun adventure to a knight! Flat, gravel trails that attract trail-running and people with dogs are boring and crowded. Don't hike them. Hike somewhere where you're all alone and you're having an adventure.
P.S. Another beautiful thing about being alone and in wilderness is that you never have to say things to your kid like, "Don't wave that stick around, you'll hit someone!" or "Please don't scream like a terrifying monster, you're making that small child cry." or "Stop throwing sand, that other mom is giving me the evil eye!"
You can just say, "Go a little farther away from me before you start peeing on everything in sight."
(I assume these are the sort of things that all mothers say all the time.)

8. Stop Telling Them to Be Careful
Sometimes when we hike with grandmothers or friends without kids, those adults spend a lot of their time shouting "BE CAREFUL! Get away from that ledge! Don't go near the water! That branch doesn't look strong enough! Don't eat that weird bug!"
Yeah. Kids are stupid. They do dangerous things. And every mother has her own limits, but a good limit is this: Is my child going to die if he climbs that rock?
Mostly likely, the worst that will happen is he'll get a concussion. The best that will happen is he will gain independence, improve his balance and problem solving skills, and experience immediate consequences for foolish actions. If you really can't stop yourself from warning your child, say things like "If you fall in the river, you'll have cold feet for the rest of the hike" or maybe even, "That rock looks a little slippery, what can you hold on to while you climb?"
Then your kid will use his brain a little, but also he will keep adventuring.

9. Learn about Where You Are (But Don't Overdo It)
Get a couple of field guides about where you live, and stick one in everyone's backpack. It's fun to point out things, "This is a maple tree. Look at the way its leaf is shaped, can you find any more Maple Trees?" or maybe "Look at that cute little woodpecker, let's see if we can identify it!"
Knowing the names of trees, flowers, birds, and rocks is fun. Seeing a bird in nature that you studied at home is like seeing an old friend unexpectedly.
BUT, don't turn hiking into studying. We used to bring nature journals, and I would try to sit my kids down and make them write about things they identified.
Guess what. They hated it. It was torture.
They didn't have time to sit and draw when they could be catching lizards!
Maybe your child loves to journal in nature. But if they don't? Who cares!

10. Make Hiking a Given, not a Surprise
We hike every single Tuesday and Thursday in the summertime. When they get up, they expect it. They're not surprised and horrified, "But today I wanted to jump on the tramp with Aurora!" They know it's coming so there is no fight.
We also usually do a spontaneous hike or two each week, when I wake up and think "Get me to the mountains before I accidentally kill everyone!" and those are the hikes my kids sometimes fight. And those are the fights they sometimes win.
Set an expectation, and then stick to it. 

11. Hike With Friends
My last tip for you is easy: Take your bestie.
Hiking with many children is really hard. Everyone moves at a different pace, everyone has a different idea of where to stop, when to turn around, and whether or not it's fun pee on things outside.
But hiking with a few friends is a must. Mom has someone to talk to, and keep her company. Someone to buckle the baby-carrier for her. Someone to go for help if you're bitten by a rattlesnake, etc.
And kids have someone to show off for.
Kids are much, much less whiny if there's someone else there with them. Especially if the other child is saying things like, "I heard a chickadee call!" or "Let's pretend we are Moccasins and hide and spy on our moms while they hike!"
So find a child like that (may I recommend a homeschooled weirdo?).
Then if you have a child that moves quickly and a child that wanders slowly behind you- they're easier to split up. Big kids can run ahead, little kids can dawdle. Moms can walk in the middle and say things like, "Does that sound like fun-screaming or hurt-screaming?"And they can just keep talking and wondering without going to rescue anyone, because one of the best parts of hiking with kids is just totally ignoring your kids for long periods of time.

Sigh. Hurry up and get here, Spring! I'm ready to get outside again!
(Was this post an excuse to post a bunch of pictures of us hiking? Yes.)



Polly said...

I enjoyed this post very much except when you called out grandmas as over protective. I love all the pictures and you have lots of practical advice. If people still read blogs this could go viral.

Mr. and Mrs. Hillarious said...

Loved this! Our hikes take us mostly down the river where my kids spend lots of time exploring since we don't live close enough to the mountains for twice-weekly hiking. But I can second all these things!

Katie said...

Thanks for this! I am reading "How to Raise a Wild Child" but I think you just summed it all up in one post!

Lisa said...

Great blog post! I loved it!!

I catch myself saying careful a lot, because I - was - am clumsy.