By Michelle Mady
As the weather changes, I find myself trying to get the kids outside, especially in a year where a lot of school happened on screens. We are lucky to have so many hiking trails within a short drive from our home. Once a week, we do a child-led hike (one child in charge each week), and it has become one of our favorite activities!
What is a Child-Led Hike?
A child-led hike is just what it sounds like! A child (or children) takes the lead on the hike, making the experience most meaningful to them. Of course an adult would make some choices surrounding the hike, like when to go and where to start, but once you are on the trail, the child takes over. Giving a child the leadership role in the hike will make it more fun for them and take the stress off of parents to plan activities or routes on the hike.
Giving a child the leadership role in the hike will make it more fun for them and take the stress off of parents to plan activities or routes on the hike.
How to Prepare
Pack a bag with some water, snacks, and a first aid kit, but leave the rest to your child. Have them decide what should be packed. If they are old enough, encourage them to pack their own bags. Ask them what they think the hike will be like. Will it be a fun adventure, time to sing songs with the family, or maybe your child is out to find the biggest rock they can! Talking about it before the hike will help you key into what may need to be packed as well.
On the Hike
Once you start, invite your child to take the lead. Download the AllTrails app and pull up your area. This will help you make sure that you know where you are and how to get back. You may get a quarter mile into the trail and then spend an hour playing with some sticks. Or maybe you hike for an hour before sitting to watch the wildlife. There isn’t a goal or destination except those decided for your child, so enjoy it!
What to Ask
Child-led hikes can also be a great time for adults to take a moment to absorb what is happening around them. If you see something, point it out to your child, ask them what they think it may be. The SEEK app is wonderful to scan plants, animals, and insects. It will show you what your find likely is and give you great facts about the find. Ask what they think may live in a hole in the tree or what sounds they hear. Asking open-ended questions helps children to observe the natural world around them.
Physical outdoor activity does something to my brain that makes me feel so much calmer; this is true for children as well. When they are able to explore their physical abilities, they become more aware of the way their body moves and how to control those movements. Because of this, it may lead to a decrease in behaviors that may be a struggle at home. Child-led hikes also gives a child a bit of control, and we know how important choices are to children. So, it can be said that hikes and outdoor play lead to happier, healthier children and parents!
About the author: Michelle is a mom of 5 children ranging in age from 5 to 15. As a toddler and preschool teacher, she shares experiences, activities and guidance to other parents, as both a parent and as a professional early childhood educator, at any stage of their parenting journey.
Photo credit: iStock.com/FatCamera.jpg