The weather has finally turned cooler, the leaves are changing with the impending season of fall, and my thoughts return to the “falls” of yesteryears. I admit that fall is by far my favorite time of year. I’m sure growing up in New England has something to do with that love for this season!
I recently returned from a hiking trip with 2 of my girls and along the trail we were reminiscing about all the hiking we did when they were little kids.
I remember distinctly when I decided that I was going to give my children the opportunity to fall in love with the out of doors. My friend Jan and I had taken our girls up to the lodge on Mount Rainier in Washington state to do some walking around.
It was a gorgeous day and the vistas were breathtaking. Together, we walked along the paved pathways around the lodge.
I had Victoria in a backpack, Lauren (2) and Catherine (4) holding on to my hands. Jan had Olivia on her back in a backpack.
Jan and I got to talking about all the hiking we had available to us and why did the fact that we had kids keep us from doing something that she and I both loved to do?!
On the drive home we decided we would start researching hikes around the area and what it would take to hike with kids.
We didn’t have a lot of money to spend on this new venture so we had to be smart about our purchases.
Jan and I each researched different hiking books. We finally decided on a hiking book of easy to moderate hikes in the Cascades. We also bought a book of hikes for children. This book had some great tips about hiking with children.
Next, I went to Goodwill and bought backpacks for Catherine and Lauren – the ones who were walking!
I couldn’t afford great, expensive hiking boots for my girls so I bought the best ones at a discount shoe store. I did want them to last for a couple of seasons since they would be passed down to the next child. When other people found out we were hiking, they would pass their kid’s boots along to us. It wasn’t long before we were the “go-to” family if you were looking for hiking boots. I kept ALL sizes to be passed from child to child.
Each child had a hat, a whistle and a towel for their backpack. They also had to carry their own lunch and water, occasionally, a special blankie. I usually had a baby on my back and couldn’t carry all the extra stuff for them.
Jan and I decided that we would hike once a month from May – Sept. We switched from year to year, taking turns putting the hiking schedule together. When other friends heard about our hikes, they wanted to join us. We handed out schedules but it was funny. A few went once or they wanted us to take their children with us on the hikes while they stayed home.
Wading in the water with the kids after we ate lunch. That's me in the white shirt with Michael and Victoria. Jan is behind me in the yellow shorts. Cascades, WA
We had 3 rules which all children had to obey when they hiked with us:
- No whining
- Take it in, take it out
- Never get so far ahead that you can’t see an adult
Sometimes when we had a large group (Jan and I were suckers for taking kids without their parents), I would make badges for the best hiker or there was a prize at the end for those children who obeyed all the hiking rules.
We had the best time and the kids were wonderful!! Jan and I agreed that our own kids had grown so much in character from hiking. They often surprised us with their stamina and drive and good attitudes in “not so pleasant” conditions.
Our goal - the lake. Even though the water was cold (glacier fed) we still let the kids get in if they wanted to - their choice. Cascades, WA
Some tips that helped to motivate our kids –
- We chose hikes that had a goal at the end – a waterfall, lake, or river
- I’d read that special snacks were motivators. I would buy something they wouldn’t normally get and we would stop at different intervals to partake of the special snacks. I.e., if it wasn’t too warm, I’d get chocolate kisses and we would stop every 20 minutes or so to eat 1 or 2. This was used more so in the beginning when we were training them to “keep going!”
- Sometimes they could invite friends, although they found out quickly which friends were fun to take and which ones weren’t 🙂
- I’d buy special treats for lunch like juice boxes. It didn’t take much for them to be excited about hiking until it was time for lunch!
- Jan and I always made a big deal about our hikes and the fun we were going to have out on the mountain.
- She and I each wore a whistle. Whenever the kids heard that whistle, they were to get to us as fast as they could. We’d have practice drills every now and then to see how the kids would do and they loved it.
Victoria had just turned 4. Mt. Rainier in the background.
Once my first two girls got the hang of what was expected for hiking, it was a snap for those that came along after. The younger ones never questioned the rules – it’s just what you did when you hiked!
Jan and I began to learn the different flora and fauna for our area and taught the children to identify the plants and trees. We talked with hikers we met along the trails, our kids always getting kudos for all the hiking they had done.
Michael in the left bottom corner. This is the day he hiked for 2 miles all by himself! Mt. Rainier, WA
Jan and I both homeschooled our kids and this outdoor classroom had the greatest impact! We also used the car rides to the trailheads for teaching – spelling games, math computation contests, music with grammar lessons or names of presidents.
Discovery!! Lauren (5) squatting down, Olivia (Jan's daughter), Victoria (4) in the white shorts, and two boys I don't remember. Cascades, WA
I loved sharing my appreciation for the outdoors with my kids and it’s been wonderful to see that appreciation carried with them throughout their growing up years. Hiking with my children when they were small had so many benefits.
I personally loved the break from being inside and sitting at the table for school lessons. When we were walking, there were a myriad of questions, “Mommy, what’s this? Why are the mountains so big? What is that bird? Where does the water go? Where does it come from? Why is there snow in the summer?” It was endless… and wonderful!
Catherine - had just turned 8. Cascades, WA
I loved the exclusive time with my kids, discovering, and exploring. I wasn’t competing with a phone or the pressures of running a household when I was out in the woods with them. They had my undivided attention.
It was a great time to spend with my friend, Jan. Not that we had a lot of time for any deep conversations but just the fact that we were sharing this time together made our friendship stronger.
The physical benefit to our kids – unbelievable. One time we were hiking in the Cascades and Michael was 2. He really didn’t want to be in the back pack so I let him walk. He hiked for 2 miles along the trails, climbing stairs that were steep, and he never complained! I was amazed. Competition with his sisters started young 🙂
Michael (age 2) in the backwards baseball cap. We were crossing a marshland. Mt. Rainier, WA
One of the greatest benefits from hiking?! Those sweet, sleepy, tired faces after a warm bath in the evening. My kids slept great and usually slept a little longer the next morning, and that meant a little bit of cherished alone time for myself. Well worth all the planning that went into hiking with my kids.
I know I’ve kept track of all the trails we did through the Cascades and the Olympics in WA, but my favorite way to remember is to listen to my girls and Michael tell the tales – the time we got lost and walked a few extra miles; the time we went over the mountains to Eastern WA and hiked a VERY remote trail, crossing 20 some streams and how unhappy the daddy’s were because we were out of cell service and got home late; the time our battery died way up on the mountain and we had to make a sign to see if someone would stop to help us; the time Lauren threw up on the way to the hike because the road was too windy; playing in the lakes until it felt as those your feet would fall off because they were so cold. Priceless, precious memories…
I highly recommend hiking with kids. Yes, it takes a little extra planning, and yes, it takes some training to teach them proper hiking behavior but in the end, it is so worth the effort. It’s an activity you can share with them no matter the age. The memories for both you and them will last forever.