If you suggest a hike in the woods to me today, I will jump at the opportunity. As a child, it took a little more convincing. I remember being reluctantly dragged on what felt like interminable marches through mosquito infested bogs and up and down mountains. Sorry about the whining, Mom and Dad. Kids can be really irritating. Fortunately, they are also easily distracted. I have taken many of the following ideas from my parents, who always tried to liven up our outdoor experiences.
While it is easy to fall into the habit of just “going out for a walk,” (I am very guilty of this) you may be able to entice your more reluctant little hikers with some of the following motivators. As an added bonus, many of them involve becoming more connected with and learning about the natural surroundings.
Yes, time spent in nature should be its own reward, but a little fun along the way can improve the experience for everyone.
Geocaching is the use of a GPS device to search for hidden caches. Caches can be found all over the world, in all types of locations, from parking lots, to suburban greenbelts to underwater to the tops of mountains. Caches contain logbooks and often small token items to exchange.
I would say that the majority of caches are hidden in natural wooded settings, providing an excellent opportunity for families to explore local natural areas they may not know about.
Visit www.geocaching.com to sign up (for free), to gather coordinates for caches, and get instructions and tips on geocaching, and even on creating your own caches.
2. Reward system
This year, we are excited to start a new tradition on our trip to Algonquin Park. The park sells (boy scout style) badges for each of their hiking trails. I think giving the kids the chance to earn these badges may prove to be a powerful motivator for visiting these trails, and even trying the longer and more challenging ones.
3. Scavenger hunts
Every camping trip when I was a child involved a much-anticipated scavenger or treasure hunt. These involved either collecting a series of items (ie: find five red rocks – when we were younger) or performing a series of challenges (ie: paddle with your sister to the point and back – when we were older).
Providing a list of items to collect along a hike is an easy and quick way to motivate children, and give them something to do. Prizes need not be elaborate, but certainly add to the fun.
4. Nature Bingo
On a similar note, some variation of “Nature Bingo” can be constructed, and handed out to children. One day, I put this together for my son, and it started pouring before we got to go out. He begged and begged to go for a walk, until the rain let up, just to use the bingo cards.
Rocks. My son could not get enough rocks. At the end of our street is a gravel trail, and he would spend forever searching through the gravel for (what he thought were) attractive rocks. Whether they choose rocks, shells, autumn leaves or acorns, children love to collect things. It can take some patience allowing children to spend time searching the ground for these things, but it is worth it.
Handing over a camera to a child is one way to make them see nature in a new light. They will be eager to find a variety of subjects for their pictures, and learn a useful skill in the process.
7. Pose a challenge
Can any kid resist a challenge? We are instructed to race up the stairs every single night before bed. Put challenges in nature, and kids will forget they are being dragged on a hike. Who can run the fastest to the next tree? Can you walk along this fallen tree without slipping?
8. Use walkie-talkies
My son went on a camping trip with his grandma and granddad. For this trip, they had purchased a couple of walkie-talkies. What a hit! He kept talking about how they would run ahead on the trail and play hide and seek with them.
9. Learn to identify plants and animals
This part may sound a little tedious and school-like, but learning the names of trees, flowers, birds, animals, and bugs give children a remarkable sense of belonging in nature. Once you know their names, plants and animals become familiar friends.
10. Simple games
There are any number of “car games” that can be applied to hikes. I spy, 20 questions and alphabet games are just a few ideas. Playing these as you go will give kids something to focus on, and enjoy their walk just a bit more. I’m sure you can think of (or google) dozens of these.
So, there you have a few “hike enhancements” that may help tame a whiny child. Now, I will just have to remember them myself for our next hike!!
Thanks for stopping by! Happy Hiking!