This Guest Post is a part of Summer Sanity, a series of posts for parents to gain ideas and inspiration for how to keep their children happy, active, educated and having fun during the long summer months.
Warm, sunny days make me want to lace up my hiking boots and find a mountain to climb or a shady forest path to follow. Having children requires slightly more planning before embarking on such escapes, but both my daughters enjoy these adventures almost as much as I do. Here’s what I’ve learned about taking my children hiking.
Go as a Group
Hiking in general is safer as a group (especially in more remote areas or places where wildlife are more common). My daughters are more likely to hike further (or faster) if they have a little friend to walk with. Having other adults along also means I don’t have to carry everything myself (as long as your child is comfortable being carried by a close friend or another family member).
Children also learn from other children; on one trip with a friend who is slightly older than my four-year-old daughter, I noticed my daughter was more willing to try jumping over streams and walking along logs because she saw her friend doing this. Watching someone her age do it gave her the confidence to try it herself.
Get a Good Backpack
For hiking trips, I love my Ergo Baby Carrier. It’s easy to put on, can be used to carry either my two-year- old or my four-year-old, and small enough to be rolled into a backpack or tossed in the back of our Jeep. I’ve seen other carriers on the market with similar features, and I recommend them.
Know which position is most comfortable for a sleeping baby, and where baby will rest his or her head while sleeping. Both my daughters often fell asleep in the Ergo, which has a hood that supports a sleeping baby’s head. If your baby is likely to fall asleep while hiking, wear him in front so you can support his head with your hand when he falls asleep.
Always make sure, before starting the hike, that baby is properly seated in the baby backpack and that all straps are properly secured and adjusted. Follow any safety tips or instructions included with the baby carrier or backpack.
Before carrying the baby, Dr. Sears recommends a “safety rehearsal” for sudden movements: “Suddenly twist your upper body to grab something, and at the same time embrace your baby with your other arm. After you have frequently rehearsed this reaction, you will instinctively clasp your baby with one hand while lunging with the other” (The Baby Book, Little, Brown and Company, 2003). Avoid any sudden movements while carrying the baby; make sure your footing is secure and accept help from handrails or your hiking partners when necessary.
To bend over with a baby in the backpack, “bend at the knees, not at the waist, and hold baby . . . with one hand while picking up something with the other” (Dr. Sears). Also be aware, if you are hiking through trees or narrow areas, that baby may reach out. If baby is in front, you can keep an eye on his arms; if baby is behind, have someone else watch her and warn you.
Pack the Snacks
My dad, when I was growing up, used to take chocolate covered almonds on every hike we did. He’d tell us, “I think I’m going to have some almonds at the top of THAT hill.” We always made it there to have the almonds with him. Packing your child’s favourite snacks for the trip can help motivate them to hike longer—and give them more energy to do that. Lots of water (or juice) is also a must; I have a camelback which my daughters think is very cool, so they drink more water.
Don’t forget to pack extra diapers (and a bag for the dirty diapers, in case there are no garbage bins along the trail). If your child has a soother, I recommend using a soother clip, as we’ve lost soothers along the trail because baby fell asleep and dropped it. Hats, sunscreen, and camera are also good ideas.
Involve Your Child
My daughters love looking at maps, so we try to explain where we are hiking. Many trails also have some sort of trail marker (an arrow or a blaze on a tree) that children can watch for while hiking. Play “I Spy” while hiking or have them watch for wildflowers or birds. Or make up a theme, similar to Dora the Explorer: “We’re going to hike through the swamp and then over the bridge and then through the meadow to the picnic table.”
Most of all, remember to have fun. Start with short hikes, give yourself extra time to hike it, and enjoy the scenery and the time spent outdoors with your children.
Bonnie Way is the mother of two beach-loving girls. Her favourite beach activities are building sandcastles and taking pictures. She can be found blogging as The Koala Bear Writer and also hangs out on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Bonnie also enjoys reading, rock climbing, and baking.