When the pregnancy test was positive, my husband got a cold sweat and jitters. We had just decided to begin a family and BAM it was happening! The first six months were surreal. Aside from being exhausted, I barely had a baby bump and we were still our active selves to the point of summiting a couple of Colorado’s fourteeners. As the reality of becoming parents closed in, we kept reminding each other, as if simply repeating words would manifest our reality, “This baby is joining our life. We will continue to do the things we love.” Six years into the journey this is all a bit laughable, but we’ve managed to pull it off and so can you.
Here are ten tangible ways to help your family get out and actually enjoy!
- Start small in every way. Bite the bullet and purchase a high-end kid carrier. My son and daughter lived in Deuter’s Kid Comfort II from the moment they were itty-bitty babies too big for infant front carriers . It was amazingly comfortable, easy to use and had space for baby paraphernalia. I also like this specific pack because it doesn’t have a tall arch above the child’s head, a sunshade or rain cover is quickly and easily attached and it’s compact. So compact I used it when my son and I would fly because it fit in the overhead compartment and was easier to manage than a stroller. Beginning adventures when kids are tiny gives everyone room to grow and learn.
- Manage Expectations. When I say we’ve pulled this off, it’s largely because we’ve changed our concept of “success” when hiking with our kids. Early on we realized a long-term perspective was necessary to cultivate a true love of outdoor exploration and for our sanity. Taking an active toddler out and expecting her to thoroughly enjoy the scenery along a ten-mile day hike isn’t realistic let alone enjoyable for anyone on the trail. What began as a simple mile on a local trail has turned into two to three-mile hikes with our kids, now ages three and six. While there have been some tears shed along the way, maybe more from my husband and I, abilities and confidences have grown and we still want to get out together. We consider that progress.
- Make yourself kid size. Hikes we take with our kids are short and sweet for us, but comparatively, we’re giants. With smaller feet, shorter legs and a developing understanding of their body’s abilities, our kids are accomplishing the equivalent of an adults strenuous day hike. Get down and peer at the trail from your kid’s height. When the trail is rocky and must be navigated by stepping up, over and around, is the equivalent of an adult stepping onto a kitchen table. Always remember your size and coach kids as necessary. Most body movement comes naturally for kids, but there are times to refine a skill to ease energy lose, injuries and frustrations. In time, you’ll learn when to let them figure it out and when to provide specific training.
- Hike with friends. This is the perfect opportunity for friends with little outdoor experience to pick-up a new healthy family activity. We’ve found that hiking with friends cultivates more fun for everyone! The kids encourage each other, as do the parents. Relationships are forged as experiences are shared. These outings are sure to add to the collection of stories that will be shared time and again. It’s a beautiful gift to summit as a child with friends and venture down memory lane thirty years later. My collection of stories began with my first summit of Yosemite’s Half Dome in the eighth grade with my best friend. Coyotes glowing eyes, my aching feet and inability to keep up with my friend and her dad followed by our laughter and banter on the summit are memories that won’t easily fade.Today, my kids request my adventure stories at bedtime. What’s better than that? We’re creating stories together and can swap.
- Expect to be exhausted from encouraging and distracting. It’s as simple as that. The one to three miles of physical activity is like running the mental gauntlet for eighteen rough miles. Take contraband to hand out at specific points along the way. We take mini chewy Sweet Tarts and call them “power pellets” (ovoid chocolate- it melts and adds to thirst). Lollipops have also been a huge hit providing refreshment, a little energy boost and a bit of curious distraction. What’s better? Sharing. We’ll take extra to share with people we meet on the trail. And yes, people do in fact accept candy from strangers. Refocus often with immediate goals like reaching a noticeable tree or curve in the trail. Always look forward to the destination and look backwards and praise progress. Pack binoculars and take the time to look around at features, animals and foliage. Not only does powerful learning take place, but it’s a conversation that continues on the trail. Some of our favorite distractions: “We’ll take a break in a hundred more steps.” You can use the alphabet, a song or anything you can think of. “How many _____ can you find?” Sometimes we’ll give the winner a treat.“What animal am I?” Even little kids have favorite animals and can play this guessing game. This can be as simple or complex as you wish to make it. Kids are naturals at creating games, let them lead the way as you play!
- Plan adult only “warrior trips”. Confidence in our own abilities can fade when shelved. Don’t neglect taking a weekend trip where you can push your abilities. The past two years I’ve been able to have a weekend of peak bagging with a life-long adventure friend. The first year out I was nervous. How would my body feel after a strenuous and sustained day hike? Would I even be able to make it? I did and we ventured out for an even further hike the next day. If felt amazing to push myself in this way. and it has intrigued our kids. There’s something alluring about the trail worn person with stories to tell.
- Win big! Summiting Half Dome as age thirteen I learned the value a soda pop from my dad. That warm soda pop was the ultimate trophy for my dry mouth while enjoying spectacular views. Pack fun snacks to enjoy along the way, for the summit and return to the car. There’s nothing better than a cold drink waiting for you at the car! Speaking of which, always leave fresh drinking water in your car, you never know….yes, there’s a story behind that. Last summer we pushed our kids to their limits knowing the entire way we may have to turn back early from the five and a half mile trip. They were incredible and had a monumental personal accomplishment. We’re not in the habit of buying souvenirs, but decided it would be worthwhile for them to have something tangible to remind them of their accomplishment. This is probably because I still recall my brothers returning home from their first Half Dome summit with antler hats…these silly things etch lasting memories during impressionable moments.
- Divide and conquer tasks. My husband knows I’m more excited to head out when all the packing and planning isn’t on my shoulders. We’ve learned to play to our strengths. He’s a gear junkie, so he manages getting gear prepared. I’m a planner, so I figure out where our adventure will take place and keep us organized. A special note to husbands: Typically moms are swamped by all the essential preparing for meals, school, laundry….lighten her load by lending a hand, running to the store for trail essentials…every bit you make her life easier, you’re more likely to hear, “Yes, let’s go.”
- Stay local. Rather than lament you can’t be on a “real trail” one weekend, be aware of what’s around you and use it to your advantage!You don’t have to go far to begin your journey. Our geography is a launchpad for mountain fun, but that requires a two-hour drive. The local creek isn’t as exciting, but it gets us out and keeps everyone conditioned. Forty-five minutes away we have a pretty river area.
- Have fun. Don’t deceive yourself, there isn’t an announcer with a special prize if you summit first. Look up, around and about. Take time to linger at the stream the kids are enjoying. Be willing to take the extra break a young child may need. Look for animals and intriguing topography. Most of all, enjoy the wonder your kids are experiencing and pat your spouse on the back for helping stir the magic.