Taking your children outside can be a daunting task. A multitude of things can go wrong even in the comfort of civilization. But, with the right preparation and knowledge it can be a fun experience for both you and your children.
1. Patience is a Virtue.
Patience is not my best trait. I like things to go according to plan and deviations stress me out. That had to change when I became a parent. Babies and toddlers care nothing for plans and schedules. Being flexible is paramount.
Be patient, be flexible. It is supposed to be a good experience. If they’re hungry stop and take a snack break. Take a deep breath and see things from their perspective. If they’re small, have a backpack handy to carry them.
When Alli was an infant, the backpack was a necessity. We started out with a frame backpack (Kelty Tour 1.0 Child Carrier, specifically) which was perfect when she was so small. We could set it down while she was sleeping and it would stay upright.
Now that she’s a little older, we use this one –Beco Soleil Baby Carrier – Nimbus. It’s lighter and we like it a lot more. The only downside is the lack of pockets. But, it’s relatively easy to put a regular backpack on over it. Not only have we taken in on many hiking trips, but it is also good for zoo days, museums, airports, even Disney World.
2. Start Small
Don’t make your first hike an overnight hike at high elevations. Start small. Maybe even with a walking trail or a paved walk through a park. Add distance and elevation as their endurance (and yours) grows.
3. Be prepared, but don’t over-prepare.
You’re going into the middle of nowhere with your toddler. If you’re anything like me, you tend to over-prepare (Ask my husband about any trip we’ve ever taken together). There are a lot of ‘what-ifs’ and you want to be prepared for any eventuality.
But, you can’t. If you’re going on a short hike, apply sunscreen before you start. You shouldn’t need to re-apply. But, a small stick sunscreen is always a great idea.
If the weather forecast says there is zero chance of rain, don’t pack a rain jacket ‘just-in-case.’ It’s just added weight. (Of course, from one over-preparer to another, I like to have these Disposable Rain Ponchos in my bag at all times. They are light and small and cheap.
They can also be used as a make-shift picnic blanket if the ground is wet.
4. Make it interesting.
You may like walking as an activity, but kids get bored. Make it interesting, make it educational. Point out flora and fauna. Ask kids what they’re seeing. Sing songs. Collect “treasures.” Children love broken pine cones, pretty leaves, and rocks that they find. Don’t worry about amassing too many. Usually they’ll abandon one in discovery of another. And if it becomes too big of an issue, you can always give them a two item limit. This forces them to choose their two favorites.
5. Dress them Properly
Uncomfortable kids are grumpy kids. Proper dress is essential. Make sure their shoes are comfortable and made for walking.
Dress them in layers. Depending on the length and the locale, layers are important. Either too hot or too cold can lead to a rough time for everyone.
Sunglasses and a hat for shade are crucial during the summer months.
If they’ll be doing a lot of riding in the backpack, make sure they have long pants so their legs don’t rub.
6. Last, but not least, Know when it’s not working.
Just because your little one complains doesn’t mean you need to pack it in right away. Scope out the situation. Does he or she seem hungry, bored, tired? Try a snack, get them involved. Do they seem ill? Is it just not working? Maybe today isn’t a good day. There is no shame in giving it up and trying again next time.
The most important thing is building a relationship with your family. And forcing a “fun” activity is a sure way to make everyone miserable. Don’t give up if it doesn’t work right away. Spending time outside is a great bonding experience.