Perhaps one of the most enjoyable things to do with a love of the outdoors is to pass it down to the next generation. If you have planned a hiking or camping trip with your child, especially if it is his or her first trip into the outdoors, there are a few things to remember.
Here is a list of 10 tips for taking your child into the outdoors, and they range from planning fun to learning safety. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good start. Enjoy:
1. PRACTICE FIRST: A child’s first trip into the outdoors will be an experience filled with the unknown. One of the things you can do to bring a little more comfort to your child is to practice first. If you have a yard or even enough room inside, spend a little time teaching your child to help in pitching the tent. Show your child the way the tent poles and stakes work and explain why each is necessary. Go through each piece of camping equipment and explain why you bring it and how to use it. Let your child know that there are certain items that are for adults only, such as a fuel-based stove and campfire equipment. If you have the time before your trip, stage a camping outing in the yard. That way, your child can become familiar with sleeping outside, but still be near the comfort of home. If your first trip is going to be a day hike, take the time to allow your child to put on a full backpack and make sure it’s fitted properly. Make sure he or she is comfortable enough to wear the pack for the duration of the hike. For extra credit, you can also make sure it’s light enough to add it to your pack just in case you have to take it yourself for perhaps the last portion of the hike.
2. STAYING HYDRATED: As many outdoors activities take place during the school break in the summer, make sure your child knows how to stay hydrated. Explain the importance of drinking water while on the trail, and keep an eye on them. When you take a drink, give them a little nudge to take a drink themselves. Make sure your child has a canteen that is easy to use. If you use a water bottle that attached to a backpack, make sure it’s easy for your child to reach without having to remove the pack. The easier it is to take a drink, the more likely it is they’ll do it.
3. BASIC FIRST AID: Although it’s not a fun thing to think about, there is always a chance of injury in the outdoors. While obviously the adults will take over in the event of a serious situation, teach your child a few basic first-aid strategies. From a scrape on the knee to a bug bite, if a child knows how to handle the situation, it might help him or her be more comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. Go through each item in your family’s first-aid kit and explain what each is for. Also, take the time to point out items that are dangerous if used incorrectly.
4. TELL THEM WHAT TO EXPECT: Before leaving on your trip, make sure your child knows what’s going to happen. Such things a child might want to know beforehand include how long the car ride is before arrival, what jobs need to be taken care of first, what will be seen in the area and what is the overall purpose of the trip. Is it a trip focused around hiking? Is fishing the main attraction? Or, are group activities the call for the day? Let your child know beforehand what his or her responsibilities will be, whether it be to fill the water cooler from the campsite spigot or to collect small sticks for firewood.
5. DIVIDING EQUIPMENT: When you’re dividing up the equipment, keep in mind if you want all the gear stowed in a central location or if you want everyone in your group to have their own equipment. If everyone is going to carry their own gear, make sure your child has everything needed to feel safe and comfortable. A good flashlight could alleviate a fear of sleeping outside in the dark. Perhaps your child will want his or her own compass to watch while out on the trails.
6. FOOTWEAR: Make sure to provide your child with the appropriate footwear for the outing. While sometimes your child’s sneakers will be sufficient, youth hiking boots are available for a trips that includes the trails. Give your child water shoes if there is a lake or river involved. Not only will water shoes provide protection from the creepy-crawlies, but they also provide extra traction which could give your child more stability on slippery surfaces. If your trip going to involve snow or cold water, waterproof boots and wool (or smartwool) socks will help keep those feet and little toes warm and dry.
7. PLAN FOR ALL TYPES OF WEATHER: If there is one certain thing about the outdoors, it’s how uncertain the weather can be. Teach your child to dress in layers, as a day hike can range from quite cold in the morning to sweltering in the afternoon. Plan for rain clouds and sunshine, bring along rain attire and plenty of sunscreen. Remember, sunburn can still occur in cloudy weather.
8. OUTDOORS DECORUM: If you feel like getting a little advanced, teach your child how to properly act in the outdoors. There are several ways to sum it up from, “leave no trace” to “take only pictures and leave only footprints.” Teaching your child to respect the outdoors and nature could be a conversation that could even lead to a greater appreciation of the outdoors.
9. WATER SAFETY: Does your trip include a lake, river or the ocean? Perhaps your campsite is within a quick skip to a riverbed. Make sure your child knows that though it may be tempting, not to go to the water alone. If there is a group of children at your outdoors activity, make sure all the children know to have an adult present when going to the water. Make sure your child knows that a life-jacket is mandatory when boating.
10. HAVE FUN: Finally, have fun with your child. That’s the whole purpose of your trip, right? Include your child in activity planning, and ask what he or she wants to do.