Get Active: Hike
By: Leigh Felesky
Want to learn more about the great outdoors and develop a lifelong passion? It’s time to go for a family hike! Hiking, either on city paths or nature trails, develops balance and large motor skills, especially in younger children. Plus, there are tons of opportunities for kids to explore nature. Here’s what you need to know for a successful outing.
Select a route. Part of the fun of going hiking is choosing the route. It’s a good idea to get the whole family involved at this stage. Consider: What will you see when you’re walking? Are there places to rest along the way? How busy is your route? For safety reasons, be sure to thoroughly research your plan. Choose a route that’s the right length and terrain for the youngest child. Ask the local rangers and get maps where necessary. Know what plants and animals you will need to watch out for on your hike. To start, a shorter, well-marked route is generally the best option. Lots of city parks have excellent shorter walking routes to explore.
Make it fun. Keep in mind this isn’t just a walk, it’s an exploration. Here are ways to keep the kids enjoying putting one foot in front of the other.
- Halfway or three quarters along, plan an “energy stop” that will allow everyone to refuel with a drink, snack or lunch. For snack ideas, try our camping recipes. Older kids can go for longer and will enjoy a well-deserved lunch. For younger kids, you may want to bring a Frisbee or a ball and break up the walk with a snack and game. And remember not to leave behind any litter.
- If you’re walking in a city park, collect a couple of items like pine cones, rocks and sticks to make crafts later. For ideas, see Ladybug Rocks craft and the Pine Cone Bird Feeder. If you’re in a national park or conservation area, the general rule is to leave everything as you found it, so taking items for crafts will likely not be an option.
- Keep young hikers busy by encouraging them to count how many of a particular animal, flower or tree that they see along the way. Singing songs also makes the journey fun, especially hiking or camping tunes.
- If you have a digital camera, take it along. You can encourage the kids to take pictures for a handmade book or story board. Inexpensive disposable cameras are also an option.
- In preparation for your walk, talk about what kinds of wildlife you might encounter. Or, head to the library to get a book and read about it. For a list of general summer books for pre-schoolers, kids and young adults, go to Canada Reads. For outdoor vocabulary, check out our EcoGlossary for Outdoor Sports and the Woodland Treasure Hunt.
Be safe and be comfortable. Everyone will enjoy the day if they prepared for the hike.
- Get each member of the family a whistle. This is both an excellent safety precaution and allows the kids to have fun making “whistle music” (for a short period of time!)
- Clearly explain the rules of the trail before you go. Depending on your route, these might include that everyone has to stick together (no going ahead or lagging behind), that children cannot touch certain things and that you should use your whistle if you lose sight of the group.
- Put the slowest hiker in the front of the group and pace the group to that person. This works well if you have a group of kids differing in age.
- Everyone should wear a hat, sunscreen and sun glasses. Also, be sure to take insect repellent. Get tips on how to protect your family in the sun, use insect repellent, make your own safety kit and stay cool.
- Take lots of water. One 34 ounces or one liter per person is the general rule for adults. Do not drink any water from streams along the route. Bring energy snacks such as granola bars or trail mix for the whole family.
- Don’t over pack. Save your back and carry only what you need.
- Encourage kids to watch where they step while at the same time keeping an eye on the path in front so that no one trips over a tree root or rock.
- Dress in layers but don’t overdo it. It’s generally better to be a little cool than too hot and you don’t want anyone to have to carry extra layers of clothing.
- Have proper footwear. If you need to buy shoes, go to a store where the salespeople are knowledgeable and can measure length and width, then outfit properly. Make sure you try on both shoes since feet can be different sizes.
- Make sure the children don’t touch Poison Ivy and Poison Oak, which both have three leaves, greenish-white flowers and clusters of berries, or Poison Sumac, which has nine leaves, four rows of two and one leaf at the end. These are all “untouchable” plants that will cause a rash and redness. If they are going to be along your route, talk to the kids about them before you head out.