So, really, there are way more than five reasons why you should take a hike with your kids. But these are pretty cool.
1. The Physical Challenge
Whether you choose to stroll down the sidewalk of your tree-lined street, stomp through the grass around your closest pond, or head for the hills, moving your body and getting outside brings countless health benefits. It is great exercise for both you and your little ones. Even more so for parents toting children in some type of carrier.
In our present stage of life, with an eight-month-old baby, and a two-and-a-half year old, my husband and I each carry between twenty and thirty-five pounds of kids and gear on hikes. I feel both physically challenged and wonderfully satisfied carrying my baby girl up the side of a mountain, and my husband – who carries our much heavier toddler – concurs. It’s a great workout, and it’s free. (Or really cheap.)
2. The Opportunities To Learn And Play
The natural world is full of opportunities to enhance a child’s education. Our oldest is two-and-a-half now, and at his two-year checkup we were told he had a mild isolated speech delay. While he has made huge strides in the past six months, and is speaking full, complete sentences now, taking him outside on hikes has given him and us new opportunities to learn. We spend hours reading books and talking to both of our kids at home or in everyday situations like running errands, but we know that there is more than one way to learn. One of those ways involves using the outdoors to look for educational opportunities. We always talk about what we see on hikes. The moss on trees (“is the moss soft or hard?”), counting how many steps there are on a bridge across a trail, birds flitting about, chipmunks scurrying across the trail with a contraband peanut, the sounds of a creek or waterfall (“are we getting closer or farther from the water?”), sea creatures or clamshells washed up on a beach. Etc. Observation and Processing = Learning.
Hiking is good for play, too. No need to bring along any toys on hikes. Sticks, dirt, mud – these are all the oldest toys in the world, and they’re totally free.
Another highlight of hiking with our kids is that we get to share one of our favorite hobbies – foraging for edible plants – with them. While our son may not know all his ABCs or be able to count to one hundred, he can certainly show off when it comes to spotting multiple edible plants from impressive distances up a trail.
Hiking has given us all new learning opportunities, but it has certainly given my son his moments to shine.
3. You Get To Bond In New Ways
Engaging with our kids on hikes is one of the most rewarding things about hiking. It’s really cool to see or hear them get excited about something during a hike, and to show them that there’s a reward – a beautiful view, a lake, waterfall, or something cool – along the way.
We get glimpses into how their imaginations work, and we notice the world differently through their senses. It’s awesome. Plus, I just love the physical bond of carrying my children while they are still little – these days are short and I want to enjoy them while they last.
4. You Know They Are Safe
Our kids are still little enough that we can strap them into carriers and take them along on most of the hikes we would choose even before we had kids. If they are comfortable, fed, get enough breaks to burn off energy, and feel safe, they’re pretty easy and delightful company on hikes.
We do let our toddler walk on trails that are not too rocky or steep for his little legs, for as long as he wants to and is able to. When he gets tired, he either rides on Daddy’s shoulders or for longer hikes in the backpack carrier. We are accountable for teaching our kids how to hike safely, and how to enjoy the outdoors as we do. Sometimes this looks like going at the ever-adorable yet excruciatingly slow toddler speed, or playing the “red light green light” game for way longer than we want to, and standing aside carefully to let upward hikers pass. When they’re with us, we know they’re as safe as we are.
5. Fringe Benefits
Hiking for exercise or entertainment or both has numerous fringe benefits. We don’t have to worry about how much it’s going to cost, and we don’t ever have to ration it or feel guilty about “too much screen time.” Our kids always come home tired. Sure, the regular schedule might be different on a long hiking day, and naps might not happen when or as they should. But, ultimately, tired bodies = better overall sleep. I’ll take that any day.
In my book, this particular fringe benefit is a winner by far – our kids invariably fall asleep on longer hikes, giving my husband and me chances to have peaceful, uninterrupted conversations on the trail (in the middle of the day – gasp)! We savor these moments for all they’re worth knowing these opportunities are rare at home. Gosh, sometimes, if the trail is wide enough we even hold hands!
And there you have it, folks. Five good reasons to go hiking with your littles. If you’ve got more to add to the list – please feel free to share. I’d love to hear your favorites!