Pack up the car and bring your family to your nearest mountain range, forest or national park. Don’t forget these essential tips for hiking with kids.
All day hikes and spontaneous adventures might seem like a thing of the past now that you’ve got children to think about but that doesn’t have to be true. You’ll need a bit more preparation and to exercise a lot more caution but with these 16 tips, there’s no reason for you and your children not to make the most of the beautiful Irish countryside this summer. Get them interested in hiking now and they’ll thank you in the future.
1. Food and drinks
Prepare snacks to keep your children’s energy levels up along the way. Try to make something delicious but still healthy like protein balls or chickpea blondies to avoid any sugar crashes mid-hike. Carrot and celery sticks are handy for them to crunch on along the way. Add a tub of hummus and you’ve got a perfect snack for a mini picnic. If you are doing a long hike and plan on bringing a picnic don’t forget to bring plenty of other snacks as well. Little cartons of juice are a lovely treat for kids as well and will help to keep them hydrated. Of course, don’t forget bottles of water.
2. And more water
If you think you have enough water, add another bottle. It might be heavy and bulky but it will be worth it. It might even be yourself who will end up needing it. Hiking with kids is thirsty work.
3. Prepare for all weather
Sunglasses, sun cream, sun hats, rain jacket, extra layers, gloves, extra socks. Bring them all. It wouldn’t be strange in Ireland for you to need all of the above on the same day. Dress the kids in layers too which can be removed as needed. And make sure to have a change of clothes in the car for each child. They will find the mud and they will get covered in it.
4. Make an adventure of it
A mission to find the hidden treasure or to escape from an enchanted forest. Whatever the story, have one. Feed your children’s imagination and they’ll be the ones asking you to keep up.
5. Entertainment ideas
Have plenty of songs and game ideas to keep them entertained and distracted. Try eye-spy, 20 questions and games making up or sharing stories.
6. Start early
Get up, get out, get home. Don’t leave too much time in the morning for them to hang around and start complaining about not wanting to go. And that way there’s time to have a relaxing evening to treat yourselves for all your hard work.
7. Choose the route wisely and start easy
If it’s your children’s first hike don’t expect them to climb Lugnaquilla. Bring them on a nice easy walk without too much of an incline. A route that begins relatively high will still give you beautiful views and a sense of achievement at the end without walking any little legs off.
8. First aid kit, wipes, hand sanitiser, insect repellent, a compass
As well as food prep and clothes prep there’s everything else prep. Make sure your first aid kit has plasters, antiseptic wipes, Calpol or something similar, antihistamines and anti-itch cream. You probably won’t use most of it but hiking with kids is unpredictable. The placebo effect of using cream, wipes and plasters on little cuts and bites is probably the most important effect anyway. Similarly, with the compass, you probably won’t need it on small child-friendly hikes but its no harm to have. And it can be great fun for kids to play with and help navigate the way!
9. Have an emergency plan if they get lost
There are so many places to lose children on a hike, be it intentionally, on their part, or not. Have a plan. Point out landmarks along the way and have an emergency meeting point. Get your children whistles to help find them. Make sure your children are warned about the dangers of crying wolf though. Dress them in bright clothes, particularly orange, yellow or pink or even get them each a hi-vis jacket. That way they’re less likely to slip out of your sight.
10. Correct shoes
Get your children some proper hiking boots. You don’t have to spend a fortune though; there are a host of brands out there offering reasonably priced footwear. Head to your nearest outdoor retailer and they’ll be more than happy to help you out. Don’t forget to break them in and make sure that you know they are comfortable before heading off on your hike.
11. Know your flora and fauna
Use this opportunity to teach your children about the plants and animals we share our planet with. You could make a game of pointing out or finding different trees, birds or butterflies. If children get used to being around all kinds of creatures at a young age they won’t be fearful of them as they get older. Children will also learn to respect nature and the importance of looking after the environment.
12. Plenty of breaks to rest, play and explore
Don’t forget how little your children’s legs are. Take regular breaks for snacks and drinks. Encourage exploring and playing during these breaks too. Leave the OCD at home and let your kids get stuck into playing in the mud. You have a change of clothes in the car anyway, right?
13. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t make it the whole way
The goal when hiking with kids is not to get to the top or the end. It’s to have fun, to introduce your children to the wonders of nature and to spend time together. Don’t forget that. Eventually, it will be your children who are racing to the top but don’t push it.
14. If your child is an only child bring a friend
This should make everything a lot more enjoyable. You’ll be able to play more games if there is a second child. Be careful though. Every parent is different so make sure you’re all on the same level before heading off. They need to understand that no means no and that misbehaving can be dangerous in certain circumstances.
15. Keep it interesting and go to new places
It might be tempting to keep following your tried and tested route but kids will get bored. If there’s one thing we’re not short if in Ireland it’s beautiful walks so the choice is yours. Look online for more child-friendly hikes, ask other parents or even ask your local Scouts or Girl Guides leader.
16. The reward
Even the most reluctant little hiker would be breath taken by some of the views from Irish hikes. Be it a waterfall or a bird’s eye view of your house or area the reward at the end will make it all worthwhile. And your kids will agree.
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