Tuesday, June 09, 2015

hiking with a toddler

My husband and I have always loved the outdoors. We both grew up playing in the woods, going on outdoor trips and spent most of our lives hiking. The great outdoors is and always has been a big part of who we are. When we had Lucy we knew we wanted to pass along our passion for nature to her. So much that we picked up our life in Southern California and moved to my small hometown on the Oregon Coast with the goal of living a more simple life close to nature

Heading out into nature with a baby wasn't easy at first but now that Lucy is three, we've found a nice groove. We spend a lot of time outside, exploring beaches, hiking through forests and having family adventures and it feels normal and totally manageable. With summer here and kiddos home from school I thought it would be the perfect time to share some of my favorite tips for hiking with a kid.

I'm not an expert on kids but I am pretty sure that most tiny kiddos are not going to love hours and hours of hiking- especially during the toddler years. I think a great place to begin is to start small with short accessible nature walks or small hikes that are unique and interesting. We've been hiking with Lucy since she was born so she is pretty used to the process but she still only has so much focus. I've found that 30min-1hour sessions of hiking is perfect for her three year old energy and attention span.

We all have a time of day when we are at our best and kids are no different. We like to pick a time for hiking that works best for Lucy. So far, the mornings are ideal which means the end our hikes often fall in line with lunch time and then a quick nap on the car ride home.

It never fails that once we get going, one of us will get hungry and there is nothing worse than what we call "the mungries" (mad and hungry) on the trail! I always pack lots of snacks. Our favorite fast snacks are Plum Organics Mish Mash, homemade trail mix and bananas.

Good gear is really important no matter your age but hiking with a small kiddo makes it even more important. We've never really used a stroller so before Lucy could walk, we always used an Ergo for short hikes or a hiking backpack for a longer trek.

A good backpack enabled Andy and I to go on longer and difficult hikes with Lucy. Once she started walking, she developed more interest in participating with us. We would begin our hike by carrying her in the backpack and then take her out to hike on and off.

These days Lucy typically wants to hike on her own so we have stopped using a backpack. If she gets tired, Andy will put her on his shoulders for a little while or I will give her a short piggy back ride but overall she hikes like a champ (the kid has a lot of energy)!

While Andy I would love to power up the trail for hours, now that we have a small person in tow, we take lots of breaks! Stopping for a snack, a game, looking at the surroundings are all ways to take a breather. Even if Lucy wants to keep going we make breaks mandatory because we know from experience that hunger and tired legs will eventually catch up with her.

Even though Lucy is only three, we encourage her set the pace.We are always close, often holding hands but we give her permission to lead the way or walk at her own speed. This seems to give her confidence in the process instead of feeling like she has to follow us and try to to keep up.

We always try to pick hikes that are scenic and living in Oregon makes it easy! I've found, even for myself, that there is more incentive and excitement to keep pushing on when you know you are hiking toward something like the ocean, the top of a mountain, a lookout, a waterfall, a beautiful view, etc. 

Just because you are hiking with a kid doesn't mean it has to be boring! While we never put Lucy in danger, we do like to encourage her to be adventurous. Lately she is in a very cautious stage so we have been challenging her to go outside her comfort zone and take a few risks like hiking down a steep trail, scaling small rocks and exploring beach caves.

It never fails that once we head back down the trail, there is grumbling or a meltdown. Over time I have I learned to prepare some games or stories to tell to make the time pass faster. Having something fun to pass the time distract us from being tired, bored or restless and makes the way back more enjoyable for everyone.

The biggest lesson I have learned from having a toddler, is to have patience and lots of it! Lets be honest, many things are more interesting (or difficult) with a toddler but the reward of sharing the beauty, adventure and joy that nature hold is worth all of the challenges. I've found that accepting a slower pace, a shorter hike and having lots of patience gets me through the challenges that come along with hiking with a three year old.

I know hiking is not for everyone, let alone hiking with a kid but there is something so special about the outdoors- if anything just get outside with your kids! I am convinced that in this crazy, fast paced, media obsessed world- we need the magic and beauty that nature offers.


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