Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Trail Fun: 9 Ways to Keep Kids (and Teens!) Entertained

One of the toughest things about hiking and parenting is learning how to mix the two. On the one hand, you have this beautiful weekend with nothing you'd rather do but walk for miles, and on the other, you have a child who isn't as enthusiastic about riding your coattail the whole way. A surefire way for a trek to go sour fast is to listen to a child complain, and whine, and moan, and groan for hours on end.

When Ashby was little, we never really had this problem. She was always eager to go along, to walk for miles, to hop on rocks, and skip stones in the rivers. It has evolved over time. More or less during this time that the aliens have stolen her brain (aka the teen years). She doesn't complain while we're out there, just mainly the days before when she hears about the plans for hiking. And she doesn't hate hiking. She just firmly dislikes anything that doesn't include spending money or chasing boys.

So how do we keep her entertained? That's the easy part! Keep her distracted!

1. Tapping into curiosity. Kids are naturally curious. Utilize your hiking time to tap into this. Asking questions is the best way to get them started. "Hey, wonder what could live in that tree hole?" "Have you ever seen a mushroom that looks like THAT?!"

2. Observe your surroundings verbally. Just like you don't know what your teen is thinking, they don't know what you're thinking either.  Initiate a light conversation about what you see. Verbal observation will get them talking to you, too, and seeing through your child's eyes is the best trail experience.

3. Use your imagination. Get creative! Make up a funny story on the spot. Even Ashby's not too old for this. Also, use your observation skills (and theirs!) to find everyday objects in other things. Example photo: Picking a tree's "nose".

4. Feed that baby! We all know that food is more fun to eat when you're in the wilderness. Pack in yummy treats, lounge on some logs, and snack away. Really kick back and enjoy the experience. Let them play with their food. Oh, and the 30 second rule reigns supreme! A little dirt never hurt anyone.

5. Make it a solo date. Have more than one child? Momma and daddy always together on the trail? Make it special for your youngin' by making it a date, just you and the babe. Take the whole day if you can. Add in a playground trip, a picnic, a swim in the summer. Remember to take lots of bad pictures.

6. Bring a friend. I know this one works wonders for us. If we bring along "the Joders" (Jodi) then Ashby is content. They have a ton of fun together, and find a million faces to make things to do.

7. Pick an interesting trail. Just because you're bringing the "babies" doesn't mean the trail has to be boring. Sometimes the most interesting trails are rated "moderate" instead of "easy." Read reviews and do your homework. Your children will have more fun crossing rocks and streams than meandering concrete paths.

8. Go at their pace. I cannot tell you how many times I've seen the "Speed Hiker" out on the trail with his family in tote practically dragging them along by the ears. You know who I'm talking about: Mr. 30-miles-in-one-day. Usually he's up ahead hollering for them to catch up, or he's in the back badgering them to move on. Might as well put them on a leash and drag them. Don't do this. If your babies are little, go at their pace. Let them have time to explore, rest, and absorb all of their surroundings. Remember, there's a lot of new things out there for them! If they're older, allow them to try your pace, but don't expect them to be marathon trail runners.

9. When all else fails, resort to bathroom humor. Need I say more?