My previous post got me thinking about the tricks we’ve used to encourage our two young hikers. I came up with nine more in addition to the “Hansel and Gretel” ploy. Each has been tested, as they say, in the field. None has worked every time, which is why the last two tips are more for parents than children.
Tell a story. We make them up or we tell true ones. When we hit a good storytelling vein, we mine it. We’re six years and counting for the slapstick adventures of two dumb ducks named Malcolm and Willard.
Change the focus of a hike. We’ve made the point of a hike getting to a pond where we can skip stones, or playing a game of hike-and-seek.
Set up competitions. Race to the tenth tree on the trail. Who can find the most animal tracks or identify the most flowers? I know I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel when we try to name all the characters in “Star Wars,” but it has kept the Force with small Skywalkers.
Add a friend. Add several friends. Hiking becomes way more cool for my children if we invite their friends to join us. That said, inviting a friend is a gamble — double the fun or double the whining — so place small bets (short hikes) to start.
Add gear and technology. We’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of teaching our children to use various pieces of equipment on the hiking trail. Try compasses, with or without maps, and children’s cameras — or your own camera if you’re confident that it won’t be dropped.
Piggyback another activity (and its gear). We sometimes bring wildlife and flower guides on hikes, along with binoculars and small flower presses. Sketchbooks and drawing supplies work, too.
Invite along favorite fantasy or dress-up characters. We learned the pleasure of hiking in disguise when Virgil insisted on wearing his Wolverine costume from Halloween, complete with claws. Since then, we’ve unloaded Jedi knights, superpowers, and other fantastical creatures at the trailhead. The costumes come off pretty quickly, but the memories seem to linger.
Hike only as far as a reluctant hiker wants to go. Sometimes my best choice as a hiking parent is to rethink the day in terms of what my child wants, which may mean turning around or not even starting a hike.
Carry ’em out. We’ve carried our children on our shoulders, in our arms, and on our backs to get to a campsite before dark or to the car at the end of the trail.
Maybe that last tip is less trick than confession: Yes, we’ve been caught out. Yes, we’ve been too ambitious. But those forced marches have become part of our parenting story, along with all the other things that worked or didn’t. They remind us that our task isn’t to get our children up the trail to the top. It’s to be with them and to share our love of the world with them. On the days when none of my ideas seems to work, I try to remember that soon enough, they’ll be hiking beyond us.