“Every child needs nature. Not just the ones with parents who appreciate nature. Not only those of a certain economic class or culture or gender or sexual identity or set of abilities. Every child,” said Richard Louv, author of eight books about the connections among family, nature and community.
Louv says, “Research suggests that exposure to the natural world—including nearby nature in cities—helps improve human health, well-being, and intellectual capacity in ways that science is only recently beginning to understand.”
As parents, we have such little downtime to really enjoy our loved ones; we’re usually driving a car, making dinner or helping with homework.
And then there’s this: According to a national survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, American youth (8-18 years old) devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day. That’s more than 53 hours a week!
Here’s an alternative.
Carving out time for a family hike is a smart decision on many levels and there’s no better time than now to take a walk in the woods.
Here’s how to get started:
#1: Hike Location and Time of Day
There’s a reason children coined the phrase, “Are we there yet?” In general, kids love doing, not waiting. Keep this in mind when you plan where your family hike will occur.
Travel distance shouldn’t be more than 30 minutes away. Schedule your hike for morning when the weather is cooler and the family is fresher. You want your little ones to be alert and happy when they take their first step on the trail.
#2: Route Length
Depending on the age and fitness level of your children, the length of the route will vary. Plan on about one hour out and one hour return, with a 15-minute break in the middle for a good first hike.
If your children are under age 8, you’ll want to shorten the hike time and select a trail without much elevation.
#3: Trail Snacks
All hikes should include a snack break. Breaks are not just about nutritional refreshment; they provide mental and physical refreshment too.
Bring healthy snacks of cut fruit, almonds with raisins, and carrots and celery. Place snacks in individual plastic bags so each person can carry food in his or her own backpack.
After the break, everyone should place their trash in a plastic bag and carry their trash back to the parking area where it can be disposed of. A favorite hiking expression to teach your children, “Leave only footprints, take only photos.”
Every hiker needs to carry a water bottle, preferably in a reusable container. Rehydrate frequently.
#4: Hiking Clothes
You don’t need to invest a lot of money in special clothes. A T-shirt, a comfortable pair of shorts or jeans and a hat will do just fine. The most important article of clothing is shoes—wear comfortable shoes! Think well-worn and rubber soles. Warning: never wear a new pair of shoes or boots on a hike, unless you want blisters.
For an hour-long hike, cotton socks are OK. However, if your family decides to try a day-hike, you might consider purchasing a pair of high-tech socks. Dry, comfortable and blister-free feet can mean the difference between a happy hiker and a miserable hiker.
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#5: Hike Pace
Set an easy pace. The pace of the hike should be only as fast as the slowest hiker. Although some children may want to make it a race, encourage the kids to take in the scenery, watch where their feet fall and smell the outdoors.
Remember that your children may tire quickly. According to Sierra Club Trails, for each step you take, your child may be taking four.
#6: It’s About the Journey, Not the Destination
Teach your children to be good observers of nature by being a good observer yourself. They will love it when you point out a bird’s nest, or a frog or an animal track.
Take time to pause, look at your discoveries and ask your son or daughter questions about what you’ve found.
#7: Weather Forecast
An important life-long lesson for your children is to respect Mother Nature. When you awaken on the day of your family hike, invite your children to look out the window. Ask them to notice if there are clouds in the sky or if the wind is blowing the leaves on the trees.
If you’ve received a morning newspaper, show your child the weather page and note the daily forecast at your hike location. The tech-savvy family will look up the forecast on their smartphone or laptop. Remember, the weather conditions where you’ll be hiking may be different from the conditions at your home.
I strongly suggest that you reschedule your family hike if rain is predicted. You want to keep your hike experience dry and pleasant.
Some Final Thoughts…
Recently, I asked my 25-year-old son, Dillon, to tell me of his childhood memories of hiking. “Leadership,” he said as he crossed his arms and leaned against the kitchen counter. “I liked leading the hike.”
I smiled at his unique perspective and asked him to tell me more. “When you’re a kid you don’t get to lead very much. There’s always a teacher or a soccer coach or a parent… some adult telling you what to do and how to do it.” Dillon continued, “But when we went hiking, I got to lead the way.” He grinned and said, “I liked that.”
You never know what memory your child will take away from a family hike. But they will remember. Plan your family’s hike today.
What do you think? Do you have any additional hiking tips? Please share your comments and pictures below. We all can learn from each other.
Shelley Miller, home exchange consultant helps people travel the world and stay for free. She writes about family travel and home exchange vacations for the Huffington Post and her website. Other posts by Shelley Miller »
Go Blue Ridge Travel welcomes Shelley Miller blog writer for My Kids Adventures! Hiking is a great way to connect with your family and good exercise for you and the Kids!