When we think of exploring the great outdoors, we rarely think about including young children. However, including children in the outdoor experience has many benefits, including environmental appreciation and family togetherness. While the outdoor experience may not be quite the same when small children tag along, it becomes even more rewarding for all involved. By preparing ahead of time, including younger kids in outdoors activities is more likely to be a success. Here are a few tips to make the experience fun and memorable for everyone involved.
- Be prepared. Bring along a backpack with the necessities for the small child. This may include diapers, wipes, drinks and snacks. Keep in mind the temperature and the amount of time it will take, since these can increase the amount of drink needed exponentially.
- Remember to cover up. The woods are full of bugs, so bug spray is definitely warranted. Also, apply sunscreen before leaving. Even when it seems like trees offer great coverage, the sun can still affect the skin. Any clearings also let the sun through, which can lead to sunburn.
- Be reasonable. Don't expect a small child to go on a five mile hike. Half a mile to a mile is about the limit for little ones. Their legs have to move a lot more than grown ups, so they get tired faster.
- Go slow. Keep in mind the child's pace will be a lot slower than an adults pace. Don't go hiking on a time schedule, just go to have fun.
- Watch for signs the child is done. If they get fussy or whiny, turn around. Be flexible with the plans. It's not fun for anyone if the child is not having fun. They're miserable and upset, which makes everyone else miserable. Go back and try again another day.
- Use the opportunity to teach. Kids love to learn, even at a very early age. Teach them all about the natural world. Point out animals and plants along the way. A stop for a snack or a picnic is a great time to observe nature and listen for sounds and watch for animals.
- Bring a camera. With nature as the background, there are some beautiful photos to be taken on a nature hike. Add to that the most precious child in the world, and it's an amazing shot.
Set children up for success in their experiences with nature early in life, and it will set them up for a lifetime of fun outdoors. Make their hikes fun and full of learning, and their journey with nature has just begun.