It’s summertime. The sun is shining. The birds are chirping. And what the dandelions are we going to do with the kids this weekend?
Well, if you want a fun break from the usual routines, you can go on a family hike. A real over the river and through the woods kind of hike. It can be a fun way to teach kids about nature and the environment. All it takes is a little bit of preparation, imagination, and common sense. Here’s what you need to remember:
Think like a Boy Scout.
Boys Scouts do a lot of hiking and their motto is, “Be Prepared.”
In the case of a family hike, that means putting safety first. Make sure you tell people that you’re taking your family into the woods and what woods you’re going into. Pack your cell phone in a waterproof container along with a fully charged power bank or two. Weak signals on many trails can quickly drain your battery.
Also, give each child their own knapsack. Ideally one with a bladder and straw, so they don’t have to stop and fill a cup every time they get thirsty. The knapsack is also a good place to keep their extra clothes and, most important, a whistle. Tell your children that if they don’t see mom or dad, they should stay put and blow the whistle three times. (Children don’t always know they’re lost; telling them “don’t see mom or dad” gives them concrete directions they can understand.)
You also want to pack trail maps (including extras in a waterproof container), sunscreen, flashlight, first aid kit, and a Swiss army knife or other multipurpose tool. A GPS or compass is a must. As is extra food, water and clothing.
Clothes make the hike.
Ironically, a hike is no place for that cute little camouflage outfit. Instead, you want to dress children in bright, colorful clothes. That way, if the child steps off the trail or runs ahead around the bend, you can see him or her through the brush. Also, be sure to pack their knapsacks with a rain jacket, changes of clothes and extra layers. Warm as it might be in the sun, the trail can sometimes get chilly under a forest canopy.
Shoes, of course, are very important. If you’re planning a flat, dry trail, you and the kids want to dress the kids in sneakers. They’re lightweight and easy to walk in. But if the trail is muddy, hilly, or both, you’re going to want the traction and ankle support of decent hiking boots.
Eat, drink, and stay healthy.
On a car trip, kids will complain that they’re hungry or thirsty. On a hike, they really are. Pack a good lunch and plenty of snacks, all in waterproof containers. Bring lots of zip lock bags filled with simple munchies like cereals, granola bars, graham crackers, fruit snacks and, yes, candy. Even the most spirited kid may need a burst of energy on a hike. Sweets can also be a good bribe when you need some cooperation.
For fluids, you want to stay away from carbonated or caffeinated drinks. Water is your best bet. Bring lots of it, at least twice as much as you think you’ll need. And don’t forget to include a thermos of sangria or hard lemonade. Adults are allowed to enjoy themselves on hikes, too.
Choose a kid-friendly trail
Let common sense be your trail guide. Look first at the beginner’s trails on the park maps. They’re usually relatively short, flat, and well-marked. Sometimes they also go in a loop, so you don’t have to cover the same ground twice.
Next look for a trail with a destination. Maybe a waterfall, a rock formation, or lake. It gives kids something to look forward to. Also, try to find a trail with some landmarks along the way. More places to stop and explore means fewer times to answer, “Are we there yet?”
Remember, it’s their hike.
You may want to get to the clearing with the picnic area, but your kids want to get on their hands and knees. You never know what kind of rock or plant they’re going to want to touch and explore. As long as the plant isn’t poison ivy, let them. A hike is more about the journey than the destination and your kids will have a lot more fun if you let them set the pace.
To keep things going, tell stories or play games. Eye Spy is a great game for hiking. Who sees a fallen tree? A half-fallen tree? A giant mushroom? Scavenger hunts can also be fun. What kid doesn’t want to be on the lookout something wet and smelly? The list goes on. There’s plenty of inspiration for games, stories and experiences when you’re hiking in the woods.
Above all. Be safe and have fun.
Be realistic. Don’t push your kids to hike beyond their limit. Be ready to stop, rest, and maybe feed the kids a little energy booster. For younger children, you may want to bring a child carrier.
There may be some ups and downs, but you’ll have a memorable and fun experience.
Check for ticks when you get home, especially if you live in the Northeast. If you find one, don’t panic. Call your physician or, if your an Alliance Direct Benefits member, Teladoc.
Alliance Direct Benefits is committed to helping you and your family enjoy a healthy, safe and fun summer. Same goes for fall, winter and spring. For more information, and to become an Alliance member, visit the Alliance Direct Benefits website today or call us at 1-800-733-2242 (M-F, 7am-5:30pm Central Time).