The most common thing I am asked is how do I get my children to go hiking without complaining. The easiest answer is to make the attention about being outside and in nature not having to finish things.
Recently we completed the trail-less Adirondack High Peaks of Street and Nye with my seven-year-old and eleven-year-old and other family members in tow. My elder child ran up the mountain leaving his sibling behind. My daughter dragged in the back, overwhelmed with the responsibility of climbing a much touted 46er.
Having a father as a 46er (10x over) and Adirondack guide specializing in family and young adult trips for over 25 years, our children have grown up climbing, hiking and exploring the Adirondack Park. That does not mean that they do not complain, drag their feet or would rather look for frogs instead of spending a day hiking over rocks and fallen logs.
One thing that families can do to introduce young children to the joys of being out in nature is to take a smaller nature walk.
Children and adults can be easily overwhelmed with the idea that miles of trail are before them. There are many opportunities in the Adirondacks to take a “mini-hike.” Mini-hikes can be any length but I usually think of it as being a hike or walk that is a mile or less one way. By the way, mini-hikes are a great way for any age hiker to stretch his/her legs.
Let children help with the planning. Our children help pack “The Travel Bag.” Each person in our family has his/her own bag or backpack and updates the contents according to the season. No matter how young the children are, if they can walk they can carry something even if it’s an old purse with a granola bar in it. It is just one way to make them about the process.
If they are too young to help make lunch have them help mix up some GORP. (I always learned the high-energy snack as “good old raisins and peanuts.”) Mix a box of raisins and tin of peanuts into one container and shake. Add a favorite cereal, dried cranberries and sunflower seeds for a unique twist. When you stop to have a snack they can proudly state how they helped make it. Perhaps have a competition to name your special mix as you take your walk.
Distract and take the focus off the end result. If the focus is only on the summit the child (or adult) may start self-defeating behavior and miss the point, which is spending time together, enjoying nature and being outside.
My daughter climbed Street and Nye but we took our time. Instead of turning back, forcing her on or feeding into her behavior, all I asked of her is if she could walk until lunchtime. She agreed she could do that. Once lunch passed I asked if she would hike until she crossed a stream and so on. She soon forgot about hiking an Adirondack High Peak and just enjoyed being outside in nature.
Photo: Daughter touching top of Nye © Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities
This post is an excerpt from Diane Chase’s new guidebook Adirondack Family Time: Tri-Lakes and High Peaks (Your Four-Season Guide to Over 300 Activities) available for purchase online or bookstores/museums/sporting good stores July 2011. Diane is currently researching the next guidebooks in the four-book series of Adirondack Family Activities covering the Lake Champlain Region Plattsburgh to Ticonderoga and the Central Region from Long Lake to Old Forge.