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6 tips to make your kids happy hikers

There’s something special about hiking with your kids, grandkids or whatever kids are in your life. It’s just exhilarating to spend time in the fresh air and explore the outdoors together. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker yourself or just starting to visit the trails in your local area, there’s no reason to leave the kids behind.Hiking can help kids develop new skills, spark their interest in the natural world and boost everyone’s mood. You’re also encouraging kids to try new hobbies and establish healthy habits they’ll carry into adulthood. Why not set aside a few hours on your next PD day and check out a trail in your region? Here’s a few tips to make happy hikers out of the kids in your life.

Start small and short
For your first few outings – especially if you’ve got younger kiddos – pick short, manageable walks close to home, where the terrain isn’t too rocky, uneven or sloped. Think about visiting your local community park, salt marsh or beach. Pick a trail that’s no more than two kilometres long – it’s not time to scratch a hike off your bucket list! As you head out more often, you can work your way up to longer treks.

Keep in mind that many trails across Nova Scotia are accessible for people who use wheelchairs or strollers – check this list for suggestions.

Stay positive (and pack snacks!)
It’s key to help kids feel safe on their first few adventures. Stay upbeat and calm, even if you’re walking slower than usual, the weather changes or you take a stumble on the path. If you’re having a good time, it will rub off on the kids.

To keep spirits up, ensure everyone has packed their water bottle and ask the kids to pick a few easy snacksapples, banana chocolate chip muffins and no-bake energy balls are great ideas. Get the kids to pick the picnic spot! Remember to “pack it in and pack it out” and leave no trace of garbage or food behind. Don’t toss your apple core or banana peel into the woods – organic food scraps like that are still litter and can attract animals and take months to decompose.

Dress for the weather
Always check the weather forecast and dress accordingly. In colder months, be sure to bring warm clothes, gloves and hats, plus extra socks. Dress in layers, so you and the kids stay comfortable if the sun decides to warm things up. Remember, ticks are active until temps are consistently below 4°C, so tuck your socks into your boots if you’ll be walking in tall grass or vegetation.

Wear sturdy footwear or boots. If you or your kids are prone to sprained ankles, get your child to find a walking stick or bring along Nordic walking poles (old ski poles are great!) for extra stability on the path. Many libraries and community centres loan them out. Walking with poles or a stick is fun and for younger kids, it can delay the time before they’re asking to be carried.

Make it fun
Play an impromptu game of Eye Spy or do a scavenger hunt to keep the kids on their toes. For something more organized, check out Earth Adventures for kid-friendly, self-guided activities on more than 30 short trails in Halifax and the Annapolis Valley. The website includes a printable poster kids can use to track their progress.

Get the kids involved in identifying the plants, trees, bugs and animals you come across on the trail. Free apps can help: try iNaturalist for plants and bugs, and BirdNET for birds. It’s tempting to pluck leaves, buds and bark from plants and trees you encounter, but do your best to avoid disturbing plants. Just think of all the people passing by the same plant and the toll that will take if everybody takes a sample.

Try something new
Once the snowy weather arrives, try snowshoeing. Kids love it and it’s a fun way to travel easily over deeper snow. Check with your local library, municipality or a community centre to borrow snowshoes for your family. Once again, using ski or Nordic poles when you snowshoe will help you keep your balance while you and the kids get the hang of it!

Adjust expectations
Don’t be hard on yourself if things don’t go as planned, especially for the first few hikes. It’s OK if you have to turn around early or don’t make it to the sightline. Consider connecting with other young hikers. Hike Nova Scotia keeps an updated list of family-friendly hiking groups in the province.

Remember: it’s the experience that matters most – just enjoy being together and have fun exploring outside with your kids.

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