I remember my first summer as an energetic camp counselor, confident I could keep my young charges engaged in various outdoor activities. That enthusiasm ended during our first hike, when I heard, “Why do we have to go on this stupid hike?” over and over. Apparently, strolling along a path in the hot sun held little interest for my eight-year-old city slickers.
Since then, I’ve led thousands of kids (and many of their parents) on everything from short Happy Hiker preschooler walks to 10-mile treks on the Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail. Along the way, I’ve developed a few interest-building tricks that you can try the next time your family hits the trail.
Guess How Many Steps
As interest in hiking lags, stop on the trail, and point out an object ahead of you. Then ask, “How many steps do you think it takes to get to that moss-covered tree?” Have each child state their guess, and then walk toward the designated object as everyone else counts the steps out loud. Continue selecting items up ahead and seeing who gets the most accurate estimate of the distance in steps.
Modified Nature Bingo
Before the hike, give everyone a piece of paper, and ask them to write down 10 items they might see on the hike—things like a squirrel, a crooked tree branch, a dried up leaf, etc. (Younger children can dictate their list to an adult.) Announce that the game begins 15 minutes into the hike, getting you at least a little ways down the trail. Have the kids look for and cross off items on their list. The first person to cross everything off is the winner. The prize? They get to lead you all back to the campsite!
Crazy Nature Hats
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most effective. I’ve had kids complete fairly long hikes with this easy activity. As your hikers show signs of boredom, challenge them to pick up a leaf from the ground and place it on their head. How far can they walk before the leaf falls off? When it does, simply pick up the leaf, place it on your head and continue walking. In an area without leaves? No problem. Find a small stone or even a tree branch for your balancing nature hat.
It’s a beautiful summer day, complete with chirping birds, babbling brooks…and whining young hikers. My daughters could always get a renewed burst of energy if I announced, “It’s time to take giant steps up to the bend in the trail” or, “Now walk backwards 100 steps.” Then of course, there was everyone’s favorite, “Have Dad carry you for 2 ½ minutes.” Let kids take turns coming up with wacky ways to move forward on the hike.
For even more ideas, check out my book, Fun Filled Parenting: A Guide to Laughing More and Yelling Less (Regal Publishing) Happy hiking!