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On the Trail With Children

One thing I miss during this time of COVID-19 is Tyke Hikes, which the Lodi Valley Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance has been hosting monthly for the last few years. During these short hikes designed for young children and their adults we take our time and focus on noticing things along the Trail. As a former early childhood educator I love these opportunities to be around children and witness their enjoyment of the outdoors.

However, and as most adults who have ever hiked with a child can attest, not all kids are enthusiastic hikers. Even those children who like to hike will have their days or moments when they don’t want to have anything to do with hiking. In this piece I’ll share a few thoughts on hiking with children, things I’ve either learned from experience or picked up from others. Some are specific to young children but many of them apply across age groups.

-Be content with a snail’s pace. Going slow allows you to smell the flowers, examine the bugs, throw rocks in the water, watch the birds overhead, listen for frogs, or enjoy whatever other delights await you.

-Be prepared. Carry the essentials, which at a minimum include water, bug spray, sunscreen, a small first aid kit, and food. (More about food in a moment.) You may want to have extra water in the car for after the hike and perhaps a change of clothes in case your young hiker gets a bit dirty during trail explorations.

-Remember that fed kids are happy kids. Being able to take breaks for snacks can be a great motivator for reluctant hikers. Letting them help you choose which snacks to pack can add to the fun.

-Most kids enjoy being the leader so let kids take turns being in the lead if it’s safe to do so. This works especially well if it’s a trail you’ve been on before and you know what lies ahead.

-Many kids just naturally want to run on the trail and it’s a great way for them to expend energy. One thing that has worked for us on Tyke Hikes is to tell the kids that they can run ahead but they have to stop at the next yellow blaze (the markers on the Ice Age Trail) and wait for the adults to catch up. Again, this works best if you’re familiar with the Trail and have an idea where the next blaze appears or if you can see the next blaze from where you’re standing.

-Stay positive. Show your own enthusiasm for the things you discover along the Trail. Make the hike into a game by challenging your children to see how many different birds they can hear or see if they can find something that is red. You know your children best, so if they start to complain about being tired you can decide whether it’s time to start back or if they’re just in need of a a bit of distraction or maybe the promise of a snack when you reach the top of the hill.

Hiking with children can be a great experience for them and for you. And during this time of limited social contacts getting outside can do wonders for the mental health of everyone. I encourage you to take a hike….Along the Ice Age Trail.

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