We fell in love (deep, deep love) with the mountains quickly after moving to Switzerland. Miles would dissipate as we witnessed nature at its finest. The snow covered crests, waterfalls, fresh air, wild flowers; we were hooked and we vowed that we would continue to do what we love once our children arrived. Sure we took a break for a bit while our children emerged from the infant stage, but it didn’t take us long to seek refuge from all of our parenting woes on those trails. And with a very active son, immersing ourselves in nature became a way to instill calm on those overly energetic days!
Whenever we tell people we went for a hike over a weekend or on a vacation with our children, the response is usually the same, “How do you hike with your kids?” I promise you, it is possible, though I will never promise you that it is always without complaint, multiple stops, creative attempts at peeing or pooping in the woods, and lots and lots of positive reinforcement. But despite the whimpers and the whines, some of our happiest moments as a family are spent exploring nature. Whether it be hiking on local trails or stepping it up and hiking in the Alps, we have listed a few tips and tricks that will help get your family out the door and into nature.
Step one and probably the most important step of all – Prepare yourself mentally. Take an extra shot of patience in the morning, pat yourself on the back and know you can do this! Fresh air, dirt beneath your feet and trees all have incredible healing powers, let the nature wash over you.
Step Two: To get started, pick a trail that you are both familiar and comfortable with. There is nothing worse than getting lost with your little people in tow. This brings light to the phrase, “Are we almost there yet?”
Step Four: Try to select a trail that offers some eye candy or extra fun along the way. A playground at the conclusion of any trail is always great incentive to keep going. Hiking by a river, or a stream can also be enjoyable ways to distract children. Switzerland is the perfect place to start hiking with children, with multiple family – friendly theme trails (www.myswitzerland.com/en-ch/family/family-excursions/family-friendly-theme-trails.html) you won’t have to beg your children to get out and explore!
Step Five: Stop for a picnic. Yep, pack a sheet or blanket, your lunch and spread yourselves out, relax, eat, drink and enjoy the setting. Breaks are essential when traveling with little ones and who doesn’t love a picnic in nature?
Step Six: Let them pick- up stones, find the perfect walking stick, collect bugs, including ooey, gooey snails, search for the moon, discover shapes in the clouds; all of these little games help children discover the joy of being in nature. We also create scavenger hunts for our children encouraging them to find certain treasures along the trail.
Step Seven: Bring lots and lots of snacks including some sweeties (I am not a big sweetie fan, but sometimes a favorite treat is necessary). Our kids go crazy for gummy bears and sometimes that is just what we need to get us through the final stretch, but don’t hand them out all at once. One here, one there, or incentivize them by saying, “When we get to the tree with the bird house you can have another gummy bear.” I know this is bribery and if I just went down a notch in your parental diary, I am sorry, but it does work.
Step Eight: If your children are little, please bring along a carrier. There is nothing worse than carrying a tired child and not having free hands while on a trail. We LOVED the Ergo for being lightweight, easy to pack, comfortable and snuggly for both of our children. Plus, I was also able to nurse the children in the carrier, while I was walking (I know, more information than you needed), but what a way to multitask!
Step Nine: I am not a big endorser of baby products, but the B.O.B. stroller (made in San Luis Obispo, CA) was hands – down one of the absolute best investments we ever made as parents. That stroller crushes it – hard-core. We trekked that thing up gondolas, on Alpine trails, through city streets and it was and still is, indestructible, which is what you want when your child is tethered inside. The three point harness always kept our children safe and secure despite the terrain.
Step Ten: And when it comes to packing, despite my enthusiasm for minimalism, don’t leave home without the following: plenty of water, wet wipes, plastic bags, a change of clothes (hopefully just for the kiddos), a medical kit, sunscreen, sunglasses, tick spray (natural formulas are available at your local drugstore) hats, scarves and treats for the entire group. Having sturdy hiking shoes, even for the children is quite helpful.
So, get out and go, as there is so much to explore and discover! Oh, and before you lace –up those hiking boots, I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes as a parent and another reason to continue to share the love of nature with your children. “Teaching our children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.” Thomas Berry
For further reading on the power of nature on our children, nature deficit disorder and an influential read for all parents, consider the following: Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.