My husband and I have spent most of our holidays hiking and camping. When our children came along it was an important family activity. Our middle child was born with Down’s Syndrome and our youngest was born with hydrocephalus and a weaker left side. We really thought our hiking days as a family would be over. But they weren’t, we just had to adjust! We are often asked, “How do you get your kids to hike? Mine would never go hiking!” So here are our top tips on how you can motivate your children to enjoy hiking.
1. Invest in a good child carrier when they are young. We both preferred the Ergo and we used them until our children were five years old. They fold up to nothing and you can walk around with them without a child in them and they are light. They fit our very different body shapes and our differently shaped children too. We tried the frame, but the one we had didn’t stand up on it’s own and we had one mishap where we put the frame down and the child fell over!
2.Gear Once the children were too old for carrying we bought them really good hiking boots. Feeling stable and comfortable is half the battle. We also bought cheap hiking poles as they liked to use them on the way down. When the kids were really little we had swords and they would do sword fights to keep walking in one direction! Sticks will also do for swords!
3.Start early, go often, pick simple trails for big rewards. We started with boardwalks, small trails, going through fields in the UK, anything to motivate them and give them a sense of accomplishment! Our eldest who is capable did 10 km and 1,000 m ascent in the Lake District in the UK when he was seven years old. They can do it!
4. Snacks. Lots of snacks. As we increased the trail length and difficulty we packed snacks and a lot of little snacks for rewards. Get to the rock, have a snack! At the top of the hill, chocolate! The best was a hike in Patagonia that was challenging for our younger two. I put the timer on my phone for 7 minutes and said if they could walk to where I was by the time it went off, they got a chocolate ball. It worked and we got to the lookout!
5. Download stories. We put cartoon stories like Robin Hood or The Jungle Book from Spotify on our phones. Then put the phone in your back pocket and walk slowly like the Pied Piper. This helps ours to keep walking to hear what happens next!
6. I crush your head! There is a wonderful Canadian comedy troupe, Kids in the Hall, who would take their fingers and put someone’s head in the distance and pinch their fingers and say ‘I Crush your head, crush crush.” We do something similar with shadows. We run up and jump on someone’s shadow and say we are crushing their shadow’s arm, leg, head. This appeals mostly to our boys who love jumping on our shadows as we howl in pain. Just keep running forward to keep them coming after you. And of course, hope for a sunny day for shadows!
7.Oh no here comes a bear! Inspired by the book “Going on a Bear Hunt,” my husband will run ahead and freeze. The children run up and tag him and he turns into a bear and chases them (in the direction of the hike). There is lots of roaring and screaming and I feel for fellow hikers, but this works a treat.
8. Tra La Dee Boom Dee EH! My dad and mum used to do this with us. The child is in the middle and holds a hand of each adult. You sing “Tra la dee boom dee eh!” And on the ‘boom’ you both swing the child out and forward as long as they can go. Works till children get too heavy and adults backs get too poorly.
9. Go with friends or a friend’s dog. Other people and children can be the best motivators! Especially if you have wonderful friends who stay by and get your child engaged. We have had wonderful hikes where older children really get our younger ones wanting to try and keep up. However it can be hard when it’s children the same age, as physically our children are limited and really can’t keep up to peers.
Hiking with grandparents in the UK, with cousins in Patagonia, brotherly love in Pumalin, Chile.
10. It’s the journey, not the destination. Sometimes you just don’t make it to the lookout, do the loop or see the magnificent site. And that’s ok. Patience is key and to keep trying, as your children will get there eventually!
Deciding halfway is good enough with Grandpa and Nanny in Patagonia, getting a lift from Daddy. And my favourite moment, where we didn’t think we would make it to the end. So we stopped and just threw stones on a beach we had to ourselves in Torres del Paine, Chile.