Tips for Hiking with Children

I'm a mom to a million children. Ok, actually 4 boys, but that feels like a million sometimes. I feel like I have gotten quite a bit of practice with hiking with groups of children. These are few things I've learned, some of them the hard way, but I've been willing to take one for the team. You're welcome.

It's spring and we're back in the swing of getting outside more consistently and for longer distances. Our current crew includes 4 kids, ages 3-9 years old. So, here's a few tips for getting out there, staying out there longer and actually having some fun while you're at it!

Food- It might go without saying, but children need to eat every 7 minutes to stay alive. At least that's what happens on the trail. Always have lots of food, including plenty of protein, and I find handing them out little bits at a time rather than one large snack gives me slightly more stable children.
Water- Again, obvious, but my children become camels who believe they haven't drunk in weeks and are dying of thirst, OR it's 90 degrees and they don't want to drink at all, and I have to force them because I'm a mean mom. Either way you'll need plenty of water.
Go in a group of kids, at least 3 from my experience if possible. Kids motivate other kids in a way that an adult can't. They have similar length of legs, perspectives and a tiny bit of healthy competition never hurt anyone
Vary ages and abilities! Younger children get motivated by older - they want to keep up with the older kids! And the older kids get to enjoy being the helpers, holding hands, encouraging and slowing down to keep pace. In our culture today, we all are pretty self-centered, but traveling in a group really makes you think outside yourself, and the younger this starts the better!

Time and distance not being how you measure your hikes and walks-If I have a goal to go a certain number of miles, I will end up frustrated. The kids don't care about logging steps or miles, they can be total slow pokes, only caring about the one special huge rock they found or bug that's awesome or adopt a tree. When I shift my focus from needing to log a certain distance, and just shift to having a time outside where we all get some time of enjoyment and connection to nature and each other, I have a better time and stop being the mom who's constantly saying 'come on guys!'.
Observation goals/Treasure hunt- But there are times when you're in the hike and need to get back out! Making games like, how many different types of birds can you hear? Or different color of leaves? Or kinds of bugs? There are tons of nature bingo games online, having a few of those printed and in my pack for when things start to go sideways is a great way to refocus our group.
Sneaking game- Play! We play the sneaking game where we are as quiet as we can be for a little while and try and find how many different types of birds we can hear. Or if we find deer tracks, we try sneaking while we hike to see if we can find it and not scare it away. You can turn anything into a game. Much better than me always telling them to stop yelling and enjoy the nature!!!
Leader trade off game- This is one we use often. We take turns being the leader. The leader get's to lead and no one else can cut in front. We all get to experience different types of leadership (very focused and driven to get to the end to wanderlust kids who want to stop at every leaf and bug). And the younger kids get so much pride in getting a turn to lead the group!
Know it won't always be fun, but that's ok! Moving can be hard. Kids are capable and strong and able, and they are also small and can get overwhelmed and tired. All of that is ok. Enjoying the moment, letting them feel their feelings, encouraging and telling them you believe in them trains them that they can do hard things and receive support in that place. Nature really is the best nurturer if we let her do her job. Incorporating nature into my parenting has taught me so much!
In summary, get outside as a group, even for a few minutes, enjoy your time and then go again, using what works for your family and kids, have fun and be ok if it's not all fun, because all of life is beautiful.
What are your tips and tricks?

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