With the snow mostly gone from the valley, we pulled out our backpack, filled up our Camelbaks, and started to discuss our hiking plans for the next day. Aaron suggested the Five Hills Hike – a beautiful hike that inspires random outbursts of song, while dancing around with your arms spread wide like a young Julie Andrews. The hike seemed particularly fitting as Sprout is obsessed with the Sound of Music. However, after our hikes last summer (and our failures with snowshoeing this year – Sprout refused to ride on our backs) they often ended in frustration due to differing perspectives about how to hike between us and Sprout, I dreaded the idea of a fairly steep (too steep for Sprout’s own legs) and long-ish hike (There was a time when we though a 5-ish miles was a short hike. Oh how parenting changes your perspective). We needed a change of perspective.
So I proposed an alternative — a short and mostly flat hike that Sprout should be able to do on her own two feet. I want Sprout to enjoy our hikes. I want our hikes to be peaceful and enjoyable for all, to be quality family time and time with nature. Not the headaches of recent hikes. Something needed to change, and quite frankly that something was us, not her.
We needed new goals. Rather than aiming for a hike that got our heart pumping, we decided to focus on the other benefits of hiking… uninterrupted family time, connection with nature, and serenity. Once our goals changed it was easy to see how we needed to change how and where we hiked.
New goals led to different types of hikes. Instead of choosing cool hikes with awesome views and destinations, we began choosing hikes that allowed us to just walk without any pressure to get somewhere. No destination. No pressure to make it to that destination and back before dinner time. Just a peaceful walk in nature.
Our new criteria for a good family trail:
- Minimal elevation gain
- Near home (so we can visit often and not have to worry about how long or short our hike is)
- Flexible in length (so Sprout can hike as long as she’d like)
- Few or no serious hazards (i.e. no steep cliffs)
Giving Sprout choices and being flexible helped her get excited for our hikes.
- We try not to rush her out of the house for our hikes. She wants time at home to play with her toys and she doesn’t get much of it during the week (she is in daycare), so we try to give her some time in the morning to just be before heading out on our hike. This wasn’t really possible when we were trying to log longer hikes, but with shorter hikes, we can have slow mornings and still hike.
- We started asking her what type of hike she wants – a longer hike and nap on Mama’s back or a shorter one where she can mostly walk herself. She typically chooses the latter.
- We let her choose her snacks and packing her own bag (She uses a kids camelbak to carry her water, snack, and Dr. Who). We only fill the bladder with 0.5L of water so as not to weigh her down and because she doesn’t need more than that at this point.
- She decides when to walk and when she needs a break. Sometimes this is a rest on a rock or she’ll want to go on my back, but either is fine. We do try to encourage her to space out the breaks a bit (she often requests a snack break about 5 minutes into the hike), by encouraging her to make it to a certain tree or wait until we find a good rock, etc., but ultimately she can walk as much or as little as she wants.
- As she gets older, we may try some of these other tricks, such as toys, games, though we’ll probably continue to reserve whistles for emergencies only.
Lastly, we make a big deal about Sprout being a little hiker. We talk about how awesome nature is. We listen for the birds and talk about what we are seeing on the trail. We talk about what an awesome hiker she is and praise her for following trail rules – staying on the trail, picking up food/trash she drops, etc.
We are only a few weeks into this new approach, but I think we are all so much happier. Aaron and I still want to be able to go on longer hikes (we may start trying to do a few a month without Sprout), but we are able to be more mindful on these short hikes and that is good for our whole family… including our little hiker-in-training.