How to get your kids excited about exercise



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Planning a backwoods hike to get your kids excited about exercise

When planning a hike for kids, the most important thing to remember is that your aim should be to make them want to go on a hike. When talking to younger children, instead of using the words ‘walk’ or ‘hike’ consider using the words ‘picnic’, ‘adventure’, ‘puddle-jumping’, ‘frog finding’, or whatever animates them. You do not want this to be a chore, you want to get them out in the great outdoors to begin to discover all that makes our planet so wonderful - and with the right preparation and planning, this can happen.

Planning the hike

The length of the walk depends on the age and ability of the child - you know your child best - but you must also be flexible and prepared to adapt to their individual needs and moods on the day. A toddler may be happy to walk one day and refuse to move the next. With younger children, you may even find that they will cover more distance on a scooter, bike, or a no-pedal balance bike – it is perfectly feasible that a three year old will refuse to walk a single step but will cruise along for a mile or more on a balance bike. This of course depends on the distance and the terrain you plan to cover, but it might be worth considering if you have a child who won’t walk far but the rest of the family is determined to get out and enjoy the fresh air for a couple of hours.

So, your aim is to make the younger members of the family want to walk, so you have a happy and enthusiastic band of adventurers. Outdoor Traveler has several vacations that will help with this. Check out the Great Smoky Mountains vacations that take full advantage of the wide-open spaces of this most popular of all the country’s national parks. Visit the Laurel Falls Trail to see the very impressive waterfall that plunges down some 80 feet. You could also try some exciting white water rafting on the Big Pigeon or the Nantahala rivers.

Take along a bespoke age-appropriate treasure or nature hunt: a sheet of things that they tick off when they encounter them along the way. It can be an educational  experience, as well as great fun, to share your knowledge with your family, teaching them how to identify wildlife trails, different species of birds and insects and habitats, what to listen for and different sights and smells. Consider taking a magnifying glass or nature guide, or concoct a quiz for older children to challenge their brains – it will take their minds off their tired legs.

Plan walks in interesting places, for example taking in sites of Roman forts, exploring ruins, admiring castles. Incorporate a pub, cafe or ice-cream van stop along the way. Even bridges over streams or canal locks can stimulate their interest and make them bounce along with enthusiasm when you thought they had had enough. While walking, make up stories and poems and keep them chatting - distract them when they seem to be flagging. Wear wellington boots and let them jump over puddles or paddle in a stream; just remember to pack extra dry clothes, or at the very least, a change of socks. Giving them some responsibility may also motivate them, for example give them the map or a compass, or ask them to look after the dog treats or a drink.

While out hiking

Pre-empt their needs; pack lots of snacks and treats to replenish their energy and motivate them. Be prepared to modify the hike if your little ones are tired or not enjoying it. Forcing the issue could leave them with bad memories and they might refuse to come with you next time. Try to finish your walk on a good note, so they remember that happy feeling the next time you suggest a walk.

Be adaptable to their needs according to your child’s age, avoid energy sapping tantrums and don’t expect too much. If you can relax and empathize, you will be well on the way to enjoying a successful hike with your child or children and it will be pleasurable for them and for you. Not only will your offspring discover the thrill of nature, and the inspiration and beauty of epic landscapes for the first time, but also you get to discover the wonder of it all over again – through the little people you love the most.


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