Growing up, I was my Dad's favorite hiking buddy (at least that's what I thought). He always took me with him. Once a month, during the full moon, he would even wake me up at midnight so we could go for a moonlit hike without flashlights, sometimes getting home in time just to have breakfast and head off to start the day's responsibilities of work and school. I liked all of our hikes, but those were definitely my favorite.
It will come as no surprise then that now as a parent I am very committed to nurturing a love of the great outdoors in my children.
Through trial and error in creating these opportunities as a family, there are some things we have learned along the way. Things that by no means make us experts! If anything, these are more like scraps of knowledge that we keep adding to our collection of "how this works for us."
The first and foremost thing we have learned as parents of littles:
Comfort is King.
By "comfort" I mean hunger levels, fatigue levels, mood levels, etc. These are all things we try to be aware of and/or compensate for. The kids usually carry their own water (we find they drink more out of a backpack with a bladder like a Camelbak) and snacks of their choosing which gives them something to look forward to. We let them wear what they feel most comfortable in, within reason (no flip-flops, for example). I have found myself trying to push a sturdier shoe or a hat or socks on to a child who is just not having it, only to regret it in about 5 minutes in as they start complaining and whining and we have to cut the whole thing short. It goes without saying that being well rested is ideal, but believe me, I have overlooked this one in the past, and with devastating results.
Which brings me to the next thing we have learned.
Play to your strengths.
But really, I mean weaknesses. As a family, you're only as fast as the slowest member, so plan for that. We still have one that is small enough to be carried but likes to walk, so we always have a carrier he can switch in and out of, which is time-consuming! But that's part of it! Sometimes we get "summit fever," or a drive to see it through to a destination, but the kids need the chill relaxed pace of "stopping to smell the roses," picking up rocks, digging in the dirt, pointing out clouds and yelling at the rest of us to, "SHHHH! I think I hear a rattlesnake."
Allowing for that, even embracing it, has enriched the experience for all of us. For now, our strengths do not lie in racing to the summit, making good time, or feeling the burn. We need hikes that challenge short little legs and even shorter attention spans. The reward isn't always a beautiful vista (although it can be!) but more instilling a love for the outdoors and spending active time together as a family.
And that is exactly the last and most important scrap of knowledge I have.
Just get out there. The more pressure I put on an outing, the less likely I am to follow through. The more complicated the plan, the more excuses to bail. Waiting for the perfect day to do a hike means it's never going to happen. Plans change, weather happens, distractions arise. Just going is key. Even if it ends up being more like a walk in the desert. Sometimes, the easy, spur-of-the-moment outings are the most memorable and the best motivation for getting out again.
I have the Arizona Hikers Guide app on my phone and I love it! We use that every time we get out, whether we are planning a week in advance or dropping everything to go at a moment's notice. My kids like scrolling through and helping with plans, looking at pictures and reading reviews. When they are in on the planning, it feels like they are much more invested in the overall success of the outing. As they get older, the ultimate goal is to just show up for things they have planned all on their own. (A girl can dream, right?)
I've found the more we simplify and change our priorities about hiking, the more fun we all have!
What are your best tips for getting out with your family?
This blog was thoughtfully written by Brooke Ewing. You can find her on Instagram @brookenorma.