The annual event known as spring break quickly brings scenes to mind that feature a beach and young adults kicking up their heels. Spring break also frees young children from school duties.
For younger kids, the opportunity exists for a different sort of wild times: a walk in a park or other destination soaked in nature. Even if you don't have a child at home, consider inviting a young relative to join you on a day hike. Heck, you could even invite their parents along and get them to buy the ice cream after the hike.
The opportunity to share the trail with an elementary student is one not to pass up. But to ensure a fun time for all, a few guidelines should be followed.
When planning a hike with kids, focus on choosing a time limit, not a mileage goal. Rushing a kid on the trail will only lessen the experience, missing some of the fine points of being one on one with nature. Some of today's youth are similar to adults, keeping up with busy schedules; running from activity to activity. Once out on the trail, slow down, let the kid set the pace and let them explore along the way.
The trail selected should match the hiker's physical and attention capabilities. Don't plan a day-long hike on a 10 mile-loop trail if the kid has never hiked farther than a lap around the block. Keep in mind the distance you travel from the trailhead will be the same distance back but with much less energy than you started with — especially for the kids.
Kids like to be independent, so let them lead some. When planning the day hike, tell the child that he or she will be carrying their own pack. Let them make a few decisions of what they want to bring. That will teach two lessons: they will see for themselves that it is not wise to bring along anything they don't need, and they will learn to be responsible with their gear on the trail. "Leave No Trace" is a golden rule for all trail use including day hikers. Remind the kids the wrapper they pulled the snack bar from is now much lighter to carry, no reason to leave it behind.
When packing for a day hike, a few items are a must. The first two things to go in a pack should be a map and a compass. The two represent a treasure hunt to a kid, but at the same time learning a few basic navigational skills. Other useful items for a kids' pack include: camera, small flashlight, sunscreen, bug repellent, and a compact first aid kit. With those, add a few snacks and a bottle of water to complete the adventure pack.
After the day hike is completed, treat the kids to that bowl of ice cream and recall the action endured on the trail, chances are, another hike will happen before next spring break rolls around.