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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

6 Ways to Keep Kids Engaged on a Family Hike

By Pam Moore

A family “hike” might look more like a meandering walk on a dirt path. But that doesn’t mean exploring the trails with your little ones can’t be enjoyable. Before you lace up your kids’ hiking boots this spring, keep the following tips in mind.

1 Keep expectations low. Be real about what you expect to accomplish. It’s much better to set the bar low and be pleasantly surprised than to be disappointed when expectations aren’t met. Forget about reaching a specific landmark or hitting a certain mileage. Focus instead on the intangibles, like whether your kids are having fun and want to return to the trail next weekend.

2 Fuel up. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of mistaking a hunger-induced tantrum for an exorcism, I probably don’t have to tell you to remember the snacks. On a hike, don’t worry about packing anything healthy. The trees, the dirt, and the fresh air are healthy enough to offset all the gummy bears, fruit snacks, and Capri Suns you need to keep your kids motivated to walk a few more steps.

3 Timing is everything. If your kids are like mine, they’re up and ready to rock before the crack of dawn. In that case, head out first thing. If your kids are not morning people…I’m jealous. If you’ve taken the kids to a swim lesson in the morning, a birthday party over lunch, and your hike is scheduled just before dinner, consider rescheduling. A tired, overstimulated kid is not a kid you want to take on the trail.

4 Sun protection. The last thing you want is painful sunburn overshadowing a kid’s memory of a family hike. It may be shady where you’re going, but according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, while shade offers some sun protection, UVB light can still penetrate it. Also, be wary of being out during peak exposure hours (10 a.m.–4 p.m.), which increases the harmful effects of the sun’s rays.

5 Lead by example. If your child isn’t excited to hike, it’s worth pausing to ask yourself how you feel about hiking. Do you wish you could go back to your pre-kids era, charge up a challenging trail, and finish the day at a brewery, without so much as a glance at the kids’ menu? (We all feel this way sometimes.) For better or for worse, kids have a way of picking up on our vibes. As you pack your backpack, toss your negativity along with the old granola bar wrappers and used tissues you’ll inevitably find tucked at the bottom.

6 Have fun. Stop to smell the flowers. (My daughter insists that every flower she sniffs smells like roses. I don’t have the heart to tell her otherwise.) Pause to hug a tree. If your child wants to squat down for a while to study a rock, let her. Or create a contest. Who can be the first to spot a bird? Have the whole family hunt for things that are round, or search for green or smooth items. Fun is what keeps kids—and grown-ups—engaged and wanting to come back for more.

Hiking can be an experience the whole family can enjoy together, as you long as you plan ahead and manage your expectations. Then again, you can do everything right and your perfectly planned outing could still fall apart. That, my friends, is called parenting. 

This article was originally published on Parent Co.

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