Hiking With Kids
10 steps to getting your children outdoors.
By Mara Addison
By Mara Addison
At Venture Outdoors, we know a thing or two about getting kids outside. We develop and implement dozens of successful youth and family outings every year, as well as focusing a large part of our resources partnering with schools and other organizations to get kids outside.
Through my role as a volunteer trip leader, I am lucky enough to work with the incredible Venture Outdoors staff to create and lead youth outings. Each outing is crafted carefully, to not only get kids safely outside, but to keep them entertained and involved as well.
During these outings, many parents and guardians asked how to get kids outside on their own. They wanted tips on how to prepare for a hike, and what kind of precautions were necessary. We decided it was time for a quick tutorial: Taking Your Kid Hiking 101. I rounded up my daughter and her bestie, and prepared this high-level course for you parents and guardians. Mollie and Zoe were kind enough to visually share their adventure with you.
There are no bad ways to get your kids outside – unless it’s completely unprepared. Take this as a quick 10 step introduction to the world of Forcing Children Away from Electronics and grow it from there!
Family is good and all, but nothing beats having an outdoor adventure with a buddy. Invite along a bestie or two to join on your hike. Make sure Adult in Charge of Bestie knows how to dress for an outing – long pants, layers of clothing, secure closed shoes that won’t mind seeing a bit of mud. And then talk it up! You’re not going for a boring walk but a HIKE with SURPRISES and FUN and ADVENTURE and maybe SNACKS! Make it a real EVENT.
Remember how boring car rides as a kid used to be? Let’s face it, trudging through the woods, and looking at nothing but a wall of trees for an hour or more can be just as boring, even for many adults. It’s a good idea to think ahead and plan your hike with an interesting twist.
The Tranquil Trail in Frick Park, has a great scattering of Fairy Houses. We completed a successful hike there recently, with our goal of finding as many fairy doors as possible.
You could also go on a flower hike (such as on the Trillium Trail in Fox Chapel) or outings were the goal is to count how many dogs you see (bonus points for giving each an imaginary name). You can even make it a goal to see how many different types of trees you find, touching the bark to feel the differences, and noting the variations of leaves.
The main goal is to keep it interesting!
“Mom? I gotta go.”
For some reason, trees seem to bring out the need to pee in children. Find the closest facility and perhaps suggest they be used before you hit the trail.
“Mom? I gotta go again.”
Bring along some toilet paper or wet wipes, along with a plastic bag to pack out the used ones. We look at outdoor peeing as something fun and zany rather than creepy and scary. While it’s not something you want to do all the time, if you’re not near a restroom and the urge can’t wait – better to be prepared.
Don’t forget sunscreen! It’s important to protect your skin, no matter the time of year. And, if you are anywhere near grasses or trees, we recommend bug spray, specifically one that protects you from ticks.
Put your kids in the T position and apply liberally! Be sure to bring extra spray with you to apply more if necessary.
Museums discourage kids from touching. Nature, on the other hand, is very kid friendly. They can smell flowers, touch trees, climb rocks, interact with animals (safely!), watch water flow, and even dunk their feet in a lake. I love trees, flowers, greenery, water, and most of all, I love sharing that passion with my daughter. The more exciting I can make nature for her, the more comfortable she will be in it.
Always pack water for you and the kids. It’s vital that you stay hydrated while you are outside, no matter the weather – but especially when you sweat. You may also want to pack some food for energy.
Your best bet when it comes to snacking, is to make something simple and easy to eat. Be sure to clean up any trash and dispose of it in a trash can or take it home to dispose of.
With the hiking part out of the way, it’s time for another type of activity: the playground! I plan hikes around playground areas, because no matter how young or old the kid, everyone loves to swing and slide.
We have some great playgrounds in the area as well, from the Highland Park Super Playground, to Frick Park’s Blue Slide, and an assortment of big and small playgrounds throughout North Park and Schenley Park.
We’ve hiked all of these areas and always end up at the playground. It’s a great way to wind down from the planned activity while keeping the kids moving.
The best part of the hike for my little adventure girls? Pizza. They know at the end of the day, there will be their favorite food from their favorite delivery place. It’s not required to reward your child with food. And of course, it could always be a healthier choice.
The point is to have something at the end of the trip that keeps your child motivated.
On many Venture Outdoors youth outings, we end the trip with a snack – peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies and cocoa, candy canes, ice cream, etc… Sometimes, rather than food, we end it with a craft, such as pumpkin painting, tissue paper flowers, or a terrarium creation.
Kids seem the happiest when there is something to look forward to at the end of an adventure.
When you get home, be sure to check everyone for ticks. They are in full force right now, in the woods, in long grasses, and perhaps even in your backyard. No matter what you do outside, it’s good practice to check for ticks upon returning home.
Not sure what you are looking for? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a great website to help. Check it out at www.cdc.gov/features/stopticks/index.html.
You’ve had a great time hiking and you’d like to do it again some time. Let your kid know this. Tell them your favorite part of the adventure and ask them to share theirs. Let them know how proud you are of their accomplishments.
Sharing positive reinforcement is not like giving a Participation Trophy. If you have watched your child carefully, you will see the things they did that are praiseworthy. Maybe they did a kind act, climbed a tree, found an interesting mushroom or flower, or maybe climbed some rocks.
It’s simple reinforcement: If you make the experience positive, the child will associate it with something positive.