In Montana hiking is a wonderful way to enjoy the great outdoors. Include your little ones at our Montana Mountain Lodge!
Hiking with children is often considered more work than it is worth. Is that really true? Is it better to leave the little ones behind while the older family members enjoy time in the woods?
To answer these, you must first address two more questions. What are your hiking goals? What are your goals for your children?
Why do you hike? Most people are drawn to the back country because they love it. While this love is admirable and understandable, it begs a bigger question. Who is going to protect this pristine landscape for the next generation? Certainly only those with a love for nature will care enough to protect it. Understanding nature will develop in your children a desire to care for it.
All parents have goals for their children. Above all, we want our children to mature into successful, balanced adults with an understanding and concern for the important things in life. Of course, the big question is, how do we achieve this goal?
Hiking with our young children rarely tops our ‘Important Things To Do' list. However, studies are showing we overlook this to our children's detriment. Books like Richard Louv's "Last Child In The Woods" have reintroduced a subject presented over 150 years ago by authors like the nineteenth century psychologist Herbert Spencer. Spencer's book, Principals of Psychology, espoused what he called the "surplus energy theory". Louv takes this further to link our children's mental health to their contact (or lack thereof) with the natural world.
Getting your children into nature offers many benefits, some obvious, some overlooked. Aside from the obvious physical benefits, hiking with young children will help them develop a balanced life view and an appreciation and understanding of their world. Furthermore, many professionals are espousing the need for time in nature to counteract the growing ADHD epidemic.
The idea is valid. The need is present. The means are simple and commonsense.
Children under six learn best using their senses. The great outdoors offer unnumerable opportunities. However, hiking with young children often seems too challenging to undertake.
It is more challenging to hike with young children. It can also be more rewarding. Good preparation, understanding your child's strengths and abilities, and realistic expectations go a long way toward making a hike with your children not only fun but a much repeated and favorite family activity.
Children see hiking, in correct proportions, as an enjoyable adventure. Younger children do not care how far they travel. They are not interested in the ‘goal'. To them, the world is a fascinating place to explore - even the world adjacent to their starting point.
Remember, outside dirt (in small quantities) is clean dirt. Allow your children to get up-close and personal with their world. Do not limit them to the park or their local playground. Traverse through a wild-flower strewn meadow. Saunter along a chattering brook. Climb the small hill which is mountainous in their eyes. Follow the path twisting and turning through a nearby forest. Let them enjoy nature, and they will learn to appreciate it.
Make the experience an adventure. Children close to the ground often spot things adults no longer see. Whispery webs. Crawling critters. Dew drops. Riveting rocks. Gossamer grass. Fragrant flowers. Even the dank dirt fascinates them.
Join in the fun. Drop to your belly and examine the ground. Count the bugs. Talk about the colors represented. Watch the ants. Examine the various grass and flower shapes. Wonder at the callous soul who left litter behind. Next roll over and look for shapes in the clouds.
Talk. Your child is surrounded by a vocabulary goldmine. Encourage them to disclose their ideas and thoughts. Share the trees' names. Describe the wind's whisper. Teach them their world's beauty and fragility.
As your child matures, lengthen your excursions. Although babies can and should be carried into the woods, as your children pass toddler-hood, they are ready to begin their first ‘real treks'. Of course this requires you to adapt to their speed and stamina, but it certainly does not have to cut back on the fun experienced by all.
Choosing an appropriate location is key to a successful hike with your young children. Be it an overnight sojourn or a day excursion, good planning and thorough forethought are imperative.
While an average adult can cover eight to twelve miles in moderate terrain daily, most children cannot cover more than five miles. With well planned rest stops and interesting highlights, you may be able to cover a little more ground. However, keep an eye on your children. What seems like a stroll through the woods to you can turn into a journey through hell for them.
In addition to preparing where you will go, remember ‘how' you will go. While your footgear may be well planned, what will your children wear? Quality hiking shoes and some Cool Max or Wick Dry socks are a must if you wish to make this a marvelous memory not a torture trip.
When planning an overnight camping excursion, even young children will probably need to carry some gear - even if it is just their own extra clothes. This begs the question, "How much weight can my child carry?"
If you know your child's weight, this is easy to determine. Take your child's weight and divide it by five. For example, if your child weighs 50 pounds, they can carry a 10 pound pack (50 / 5 = 10) However, if your child is overweight, this will actually diminish their carrying capacity.
For an overweight child, you need to know not only what they weigh, you need to determine what they should weigh. Once you have this information you are ready to calculate how much they can carry. For every 5 pounds overweight, you will have to subtract one pound from what they carry. Use their ideal weight to determine their carrying capacity and deduct for their added weight.
For example, if your child weighs 75 pounds but they ought to weigh 50 pounds, you would use the following formula. Subtract 50 (their ideal weight) from 75 (their actual weight) 75 - 50 = 25. Next divide the difference between actual weight and ideal weight by five 25 / 5 = 5.
Since, in our scenario, your child is 25 pounds overweight, their carrying capacity is actually 5 pounds less than what they could carry were their weight normal. Thus while a 50 pound child could carry 10 pounds (50 / 5 = 10) a 75 pound (overweight) child can only carry 5 pounds (10 pounds - 5 pounds).
Once you have determined your child's carrying capacity, you must address what they will carry. Pack content aside, the pack quality and characteristic are key. If your child is less than 5 feet tall, it may be quite difficult to find a quality pack which fits them properly. However, many backpack manufacturers have addressed parental concern about pack weight distribution for school children.
Spend a little time looking for a well-made pack with good padding and shoulder straps which fit comfortably. In addition, make sure the pack has a sternum strap. This strap prevents the backpack's shoulder straps from slipping off your child's narrow shoulders.
Take some safety precautions. Always carry a well-equipped first aid kit. A good child-safe sun screen with a minimum 15 SPF and a child safe bug spray are also requirements. In addition, although every hiking parent's nightmare is losing their child in the woods, education from an early age can not only help prevent this, but can prepare them for the worst should it happen.
A wise person set up the following acronym which will help your children remember what to do if they ever get lost.
- S - Stay in one place.
- A - Always wear a coat and hat.
- F - Find a shelter and, if necessary, build a bed.
- E - Everyone will be looking for you so answer any calls you hear.
Don't forget the purpose behind hiking with young children. You want your children to love the outdoors - the animals, birds, plants and insects which inhabit our planet. You want to capture their imagination and their heart. You want to educate them on how to enjoy the outdoors and how to protect it.
You goal is to snatch them from the fire of their asphalt and concrete world and plant their feet firmly in nature's rich soil. You can do this by filling their eyes with the beauty of nature, their noses with her fresh, unspoiled scents, their hands with her myriad textures and shapes, and their hearts with a love for the planet which they call home.