Saturday, January 19, 2008

Winter Hiking With Kids

Anybody who has ever spent any time outdoors with a child, during the cold winter months, has heard these words. I m cold, can we go back? If you re in the backyard, it s no big deal. Simply go inside. What happens though, if you and the little ones are half way up a two mile trail? It s not that easy. Before leaving for a trip with the kids, no matter how short your walk, make sure you re prepared. Typically, the reason anyone takes their kids winter hiking, is because they enjoy the activity themselves, and want to share the experience, and hopefully pass on the bug, to their offspring. By not being prepared and focusing the trip on the little ones, you risk scarring them forever and ensuring that their only memories of winter hiking are misery and regret. Be prepared, so when you next mention a winter s day hike, the kids won t be curled in the fetal position, shuddering in a corner with fear. Many hikers take their kids out when they are just too young. A three year old may be able to do a one mile hike in summer, but only manage a quarter mile in cold and snow. This is normal and should be expected. Doing many short trails, is more enjoyable for youngsters than doing one long trail. Wait a season for those longer hikes, it will be cold again in a year s time and maybe they will be a little more mobile by then. Make sure you have introduced them to hiking before the winter arrives. Learn to judge your child s tolerance levels. A common mistake, is choosing a route that is way to strenuous, or above the youngest kid s ability. The problem here is that the symptoms only show themselves when you re well under way. Select a trail that matches the ability of the youngest in the group. For the first winter hike, choose something that is way too easy for them. This acts like a teaser and has them wanting to do more. Don t make it too long either. Look for signs of tiring, as you need to turn before the meltdown and collapse stage. Remember, at this stage, you still have to return. You will know if the trail was adequate if you end the trip with can we do some more? Keep them wanting more. It may seem obvious, but many times on the trail, you see children under-dressed for the conditions. Focus on the basics first. A hat to keep head and ears warm. Gloves and warm socks. Insulated, water proof boots are important. Take a backpack so you can carry discarded items should it warm up. Always dress them in layers. Keeping them warm and adequately dressed, goes a long way to enjoying the outing. Kids snow boots are notorious for not being waterproof. This is a real problem as hiking with wet feet is no fun and can lead to severe chilling. Get them good snow boots. What happens if the situation just deteriorates from factors beyond your control, such as weather changes, a scrape or fall? At the first sign of distress, turn back. Avoid showing any disappointment, and perhaps even reaffirm their desire by exclaiming, You know, I feel like turning back too! With factors like cold, the discomfort can continue even on the trip back to the car. For minor discomfort, you can try and distract them with treats or a made-up game. Take along some hand warmers. Kids find hand warmers fascinating, not just comforting. These tactics help keep their minds occupied and not what s causing the discomfort. This is especially useful if you have turned back and want to end on a positive note. Focus your hiking goals on your child s needs. They don t care about mileage, or how fast you complete the trail. Stop and look at animal tracks and watch birds and squirrels. Walk the trail from their perspective, slow and entertaining. Kids love to be entertained. They are usually, good at entertaining themselves, but when stress mounts, you will need to provide that entertainment as a distraction. By distracting from the discomfort at hand, it buys you time to rectify the situation and turn a looming disaster into a memorable trip. This is your ultimate goal. So how do you entertain in a stressful situation? Make it a game. Turn whatever is causing misery into whatever your child enjoys. This does require some imaginative thought, but it can really make the trip back more pleasurable. For young kids let them stop and build a fairy house with twigs and rocks. As moving up the trail, let the kids create markers to use on their way back. Strategically place a few MandMs on the way up and then discover them on the way down. Anything like this keeps them entertained and having fun. If the weather is less than great, just don t go out. If it s cold you can still get out and enjoy a short walk, but a fresh breeze can make for a miserable trip. Avoid windy, cold days! The key to enjoying winter hiking with the kids, is to have them driving the desire to go on a hike. If they re pestering you to get outdoors in the snow, then you have successfully created a monster. A monster that will remember the wonderful winter days on the trail with Mom or Dad, for years to come. Take a kid outdoors today! About The Author Graham Armitage, is founder of the family outdoor website, Georec. The site allows anyone to discover new outdoor places and invites you to review and comment on outdoor locations. To access all the free hiking, fishing, paddling and other information available, or to add your own content, visit Copyright 2006 - All Rights reserved WorldWide. Reprint rights - you may reprint this article as long as you leave all of the links active, and do not edit the article in any way, and give credit to the author.

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