We all know that it’s crucial to plant the seed of healthy habits early on. And that’s especially true when it comes to instilling a love for nature, wildlife and time spent outdoors.
According to Harvard Health, studies show that hiking can ease stress, which in turn contributes to a lower risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. At the same time, hitting the trail with your youngsters can mean valuable, screen-free bonding time and an introduction to physical fitness, conservation and respect for nature.
Unfortunately, not all kids will be automatically interested in the outdoors. In fact, most aren’t! You may have to gradually ease them in and make those first few hikes a little extra exciting.
6 ideas to get your kids excited about hiking
Try a hiking spree or challenge
Sometimes simply having a goal, and an incentive to complete that goal, is all you need to get yourself and your little ones amped up about something. Your local or state parks department may have its own special challenge, such as a hiking spree where you win badges for each hike you complete. Or you can create your own spree.
Some great hiking-related challenges include the 52 Hike Challenge (go hiking once a week for an entire year) and the 1,000 Hours Outside Challenge (log as much nature time as screen time each year).
Make it fun
The key to raising kids who will grow into hike-loving adults is to create positive associations with the activity. Kids won’t want to spend time on the trail if they feel like it’s a chore or a forced task. However, they’ll enjoy every second spent outside if you make it fun.
One great way to turn every hike into a family fun session is to play hiking bingo and ask kids to keep their eyes peeled for trail usuals—certain species of birds, nests, acorns, turtles, trail markers and other common sights work great.
Go for a scavenger hunt
Undoubtedly, one of the very best ways to infuse some fun into your family hike is to turn each trek into a scavenger hunt. There’s so much to find along the trail, from coveted wild mushrooms to one-of-a-kind fossils that tell million-year-old stories. To inspire you, here are just a few specific ways to turn your hike into a whole-family hunt.
Foraging – The forest is full of edible plants and fungi, and it’s a blast to try and find them. In the U.S., one of the most desirable foraged species is the morel, and you can find it all over the country, along the edge of forested areas. Be sure to pick up a local field guide of edible plants for more great forest treasures.
Geocaching – Geocaching is the world’s largest treasure hunt. It involves using an app to help you navigate to hidden geocache locations nearby (many of which are in parks and along trails). The geocache itself is usually a waterproof, hard case that contains some fun surprises, as well as a logbook for you to leave your name, the date and a message.
Rockhounding – Rockhounding is just a fancy word for rock collecting, but it sure is fun for youngsters and grownups alike. Your amateur geologist will be able to find unique stones, minerals, crystals and fossils to grow a collection. Just make sure to check with your local parks department about what kinds of specimens (if any) are OK to remove from the natural habitat.
Wildlife spotting – It’s the ultimate nature scavenger hunt! The thrill of spotting an elusive mammal, a bird of prey or a rare woodland creature never gets old, no matter how old you are. Head out to hiking trails in your region where wildlife is known to appear, and don’t forget your binoculars!
Rare plant hunting – In the same vein, it can be quite exciting to stumble across rare trees, plants and herbs when you know what to look for. In fact, some native plant societies around the United States (such as the California Native Plant Society) conduct plant treasure-hunts to encourage citizens and volunteers to help scientists find plants that haven’t been seen in decades.
Go for a night hike
Who says hikes should be done solely in broad daylight? Hitting the trails after dark—where it’s legal, of course—is a super-exciting adventure and an amazing way to teach youngsters about nocturnal animals and astronomy.
You might even consider bringing a telescope or night binoculars so you can get a better glimpse. Don’t forget to wear a headlamp and bring along a sturdy, rechargeable flashlight, so you’re never really left in the dark.
Hit the nature centre
Many park services have designated kid-friendly nature centres where youngsters can get started with the outdoors without actually having to go outside. This is a great way to get kids comfortable in nature when they’re generally uninterested or reluctant.
Often, these centres have large windows from which kids can safely observe nature, as well as models and taxidermied animals that can help get youngsters acquainted with wildlife from a distance.
Attend parks events
In the same vein, your parks service most likely has a wide variety of kid-friendly events each month, specifically for the purpose of getting kids interested in animals, nature and hiking. Programs often include guided hikes just for kids, during which a park ranger takes a group along the trail and introduces them to different plants, animals, habitats and natural features along the trail.
Plant a seed of interest
As with most hobbies and interests, your kids likely weren’t born with a natural proclivity for hiking or spending time outdoors, period. And that’s perfectly fine! Introducing them to these things early on (in a positive manner) will undoubtedly ignite an interest, which will lead to healthy, respectful habits later in life. As the parents of the next generation of nature stewards, it is our responsibility to plant the seed!
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