I am so happy to share this guest post with you by friend and fellow-author, Jeanine Silversmith.
Her new book, The Rhode Island Family Hiking Guide and Journal is now available and is the perfect and one-of-a-kind resource for hiking in Rhode Island with family of all ages and abilities.
Wherever you’re taking a hike, use these 5 tips for hiking with kids.
Guest Post by Jeanine Silversmith
Hiking is an easy, usually free, way for you and your family to have fun while enhancing your health and well-being. Research shows that unstructured play and interaction with the natural world are important for healthy development in children as well as the physical, mental, and emotional health of both children and adults. Time in nature provides opportunity for physical activity, critical and creative thinking, personal interaction, and so much more.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re hitting the trails with children.
1. Be prepared
Before heading out, take some time to plan and prepare your family for your adventure.
Check the distance, terrain, and other information about your hike to determine if the trail is appropriate for each person in your group. When hiking with kids, involve them in picking the spot and get them excited about it.
Wear appropriate shoes such as hiking boots or sneakers and dress in layers of weather appropriate clothing (e.g. absorbent synthetics, fleece, waterproof jackets). Protect yourself from tick bites by using a repellent that contains Permethrin on your clothes and wearing long, light colored pants tucked into long, white socks.
Eat a satisfying and nutritious meal before heading out to prevent fatigue and irritability. Don’t underestimate how many calories your kids will need on the trail. I’m constantly amazed at how much my own children eat while and after we hike.
Bring a first aid kit, watch, fully charged cell phone, and plenty of water. Pack snacks that your kids really love. You can even come up with your own family GORP (“good old raisins and peanuts”) recipe using chocolate-covered raisins, dried fruit, M&Ms, nuts, butterscotch chips, etc. And make certain everyone has their own whistle, which can be heard farther away than a person’s voice, and takes less energy to use in the event of an emergency.
2. Hike smart
During the hike, keep everyone safe, motivated, and happy along the way.
Kids are usually much more likely to follow rules that they’ve had a hand in setting. So before you start, work together to set behavioral expectations. My golden rule of hiking, which we repeat at the start of each and every outing, is “Stay on the path, stay with the group, and if you’re lost, hug a tree.”
Your group should be able to see each other even if they spread out along the path, and everyone should stop when the trail curves and at trail intersections. If you do get separated or lost, staying in one spot helps searchers find you far more quickly, and you won’t be injured in a fall or in another type of accident. Hugging a tree or another stationary object and even talking to it or singing a song helps keep you calm—and then you get to call yourself a tree hugger!
Confirm your position by regularly checking your map and using the trail markers, and keep an eye on the time and the weather.
3. Take frequent breaks
Young or inexperienced hikers tire quickly. Offer snacks and drink regularly and as motivation to get to that next bench, tree, etc.
Remember the ultimate goal when hiking with kids is to get outside and have fun! (See tip #4) Go at your children’s pace and be willing to turn around sooner rather than later, even if you don’t “finish” the hike.
4. Have fun!
Praise and encourage your child(ren) along the way. If you find your kids are getting bored or tired, sing a song, ask a riddle, or play I Spy or 20 questions. Click here for a list of fun, simple activities.
Relax, laugh, and show your children how much you’re enjoying yourself. It is the best way to help them do the same.
5. Rest and Reflect
Talk with your kids about the hike and thank them for coming with you. Ask them what they liked and didn’t like and what they would want to do next time. And don’t forget to do a tick check immediately upon completing the hike, and again when you return home.
About the Author
Jeanine Silversmith grew up playing outside in the suburbs of New York City and found a love of hiking when she was a college student in Buffalo, New York. An environmental educator and mother, she established RI Families in Nature in 2009 and works to engage students in outdoor learning experiences in both formal and informal settings. She lives with her family in Wakefield, Rhode Island.