Recently, my family and I have taken up a great love for hiking. We live in Kansas, which to some, is considered nothing more than a flyover state. Although, I’d say the recent admission of the Wichita State Shockers into the Final Four kind of helped put us on the map a little bit more. But still, some people would question whether Kansas has any decent hiking trails. The answer to that is: of course it does! Where else can you see buffalo roaming next to a prairie dog village, or cows grazing next to a horse-thief cave, or a crescent-shaped beach with 3 colorful sandstone sentinels? Okay … I may have stretched it with the wild buffalo. But it’s Kansas … so I’m not going to rule it out!
I know it’s hard to picture your toddler out there in nature attempting to keep up. Expect them to be pokey. Toddlers are independent little beings with a love for exploring new and interesting things. Start them as early as you are comfortable with. Obviously you’ll want to avoid hiking during naptime. And obviously you’ll want to plan easy trails at first. Listen to your child and don’t force anything on them. When they are really small, you may only get a couple hundred yards. That’s okay. As long as you let them set the pace, they’ll eventually be able to catch up with you.
Pack plenty of snacks just as you would on any trip. I know my toddler likes to get out his backpack and get a drink from his water bottle or bite into an apple while we’re taking a break on a rock and I’m sure most little ones like to do the same. Stop as often as you need to and only hike when your mini is in a good mood. This will help set the tone in later hikes with the family.
Hiking can be a great learning experience too. Buy some books on birds or trees and plants and point them out and name them as you go by. My five-year-old can name quite a few birds since he’s started his hiking journey. He also learned the hard way that a cactus (no we don’t have them in Kansas unless they are homegrown) is not something you want to touch (his “Nana” has one in her house). But at least he learned ahead of time before we try our skills in Arizona.
In our house, we don’t call it hiking … we call it “going on an adventure”. Even if we’ve hiked the same trail many times, we always see something new that we’ve never seen before. I had to learn that it was okay not to get to the end of a trail where the waterfall is and know that eventually, I will. I had to allow my children to be distracted. I had to emphasize “fun”. The first couple of times we started going on our adventures, we examined about 20 different rocks – all the same stone – but completely different shapes. I had to learn to be okay with that. After that, we examined sticks. I learned to express my own sense of wonder and see the big picture.
If your hiking trip with the kids doesn’t go as planned, don’t despair. When you go for a hike, your family has no choice but to bond. There are no cell phone towers, no TV, no video games, and no work stress. Only 100% focus on the family. It’s a chance to get some fresh air, exercise, get to know one another again, laugh, and make memories that will last a lifetime.
Hiking is all about going with the flow. Just stick with your toddlers pace and you can avoid stressful situations. Eventually, your children will start to enjoy and be grateful for the wonderful outdoors and nature that our world has to offer. As long as you live in the moment … you’re children will do the same. The hours you spend throwing rocks into the stream or smacking sticks on the ground will be an experience that you and your children will never forget.
PS: We finally did make it to that waterfall. But unfortunately, Kansas is in a bit of a drought right now. But it was still the principle.
Amanda is a freelance writer and blog owner of “The Procrastinating Mommy” – a PR friendly family blog. You can also follow her on Twitter at: @Amanda_aka_Mom or on Facebook at: The Procrastinating Mommy.