For those of us who are parents it is important to be able to share with our children the experiences that fulfill us and make us happy. In the case of outdoor activities and nature, these experiences are also very enriching for our children, as we explained in this article.
However, enjoying a mountain activity together requires no little adaptation on our part; a truism that, however, many parents overlook. For the time being, the children, and not the 3,000-meter peaks, should be the priority for the time being.
Here are a few tips, equally obvious and all too often ignored, for enjoying the mountains with children.
How much distance and Unevenness Can a Child Take?
This is the big question every parent asks when planning a mountain activity with children. The answer, however, can only be known by the children themselves. Some children seem to be born with the desire to run free in the mountains, while others are not attracted to walking for no apparent reason. This predisposition is, in fact, more important than the age of the child when gauging the difficulty of a hike.
But be careful, because little ones go through many phases of interest in their early years, so their attitude towards any activity can change radically in a very short time. The key is motivation, as we will see later.
In any case, as motivation is quite difficult to measure in advance, we can only calculate distances and elevations by trial and error. We will start with fairly flat routes, not very long, and always interesting from the very start (no tedious 5 km to see something nice at the end). This will help us to get to know how the child develops in this type of activity and will allow us to calibrate future outings.
As for time, a very useful rule of thumb is to know how long it might take an average adult to complete the course without setting any records and add 50% time. This will give us an acceptable margin in case our children are not very keen on walking.
Motivation Is A Long-Term Bet
We have already said that motivation is the key to our children’s enjoyment of the mountain. If we make them feel that they are living a small adventure, their predisposition will undoubtedly be much more favorable. It is convenient that we tell them what we are going to do, and even that we give them options, so that they feel that they have the power of decision. We should also pay attention to them during the activity, explaining things to them, or letting them tell us their ideas. If we limit ourselves to talking to our partner or simply telling them “come on, there’s not much time left”, the motivation will soon run out.
And the fact is that, as important as motivating them, is that the activity itself satisfies the expectations of the child, in order to maintain a good predisposition for future outings. Many parents, trying to instill a taste for nature in their children, have achieved the opposite effect. If the activity is exhausting and tedious, and ends with a bad face because the parents have not achieved the objective they had set, the child will hardly be interested in repeating the experience.
In short, outings in the mountains with our children are part of an educational process. The objective should never be a physical landmark (a summit, a dolmen, a tree…), although it is very well that there is one that serves to motivate the child; the real objective will be that the child enjoys the experience. If we achieve that, the rest will come sooner or later. And luckily, the summits, dolmens and trees, usually do not move from the site, so they will be there when we return.
The Routes, Better Circular
Having to retrace your steps is demotivating for almost everyone; for children it is even more so, if possible. That is why circular routes are usually preferable to linear ones.
However, if we have set a physical objective for a particular excursion (a summit, for example), a demotivated child will prefer to return the same way than to continue walking through a place that he does not know and that, therefore, does not allow him to calculate how far he has to go. Keep in mind that his sense of direction is quite immature and he may perceive any step he takes on a new path as a step away from the car.
However, as we have already said, the child’s unmotivated arrival at the goal is a failure in itself. Very often, a withdrawal in time is a victory. So, as much as we have set out to complete a circular route, it should not hurt if it ends up being linear.
Children Enjoy Playing, Not Walking
Enjoying the simple activity of walking in a natural environment is something that comes with age; as children, all we want to do is play. Therefore, the child must perceive that all activity is a great game, a great adventure, and that is something that depends a lot on us. The more games we know and the more challenges we are able to give him during the walk, the more he will enjoy the activity.
A very good idea for him to enjoy the experience is to get him together with other children of his age: friends, cousins, siblings… That way the child does not perceive that he is taking part in an adult activity, but in a great day of games.
A very bad idea, on the other hand, is to rush. In fact, if we see that we have gone out of schedule and we will not be able to carry out the activity we thought, it is better to change the plan or leave it for another time, than to do it in a hurry.
The Baby Carrier Is For A Kitten
Backpacks are a great invention that can get us out of trouble when the child is exhausted or loses all motivation to continue walking. With them we can put an end to the activity without having to turn it into a torture for our son or daughter.
However, it is a big mistake to plan the whole activity on carrying our child, no matter how much we feel physically capable of doing it. Spending all day sitting in a backpack is not a very edifying activity and the only thing we will achieve is that the child will lose interest. Therefore, we will reserve the backpack for a few stretches, for the nap or for the return trip, if our child’s energy runs out before then.
Obviously, we are talking here about child carriers, not baby carriers, which have their own limitations.
Food and Water Are Fundamental
To enjoy the experience, a child must have all his or her needs met. Hunger and thirst are impediments to enjoyment also in adults, but we can still relativize the situation and put up with it; children, on the other hand, cannot. That is why it is absolutely essential that we have a sufficient supply of water and some food, no matter how short the excursion we have planned. Moreover, it is important that we give them something to nibble on and to replenish their strength, and above all, plenty to drink, before they have shown that they are hungry or thirsty.