Klean Voices: Hiking With Kids

May 21 2015

I’m all for getting kids outside. Connecting kids with the natural world is one of my passions. But I’m tired of reading blogs about hiking with kids. They tend to state the obvious (bring a hat and snacks! Don't make their first hike 15 miles straight uphill!). They are often written by parents trying to reclaim their former adventure glory days. And they typically forget the fact that kids are perfectly at home in the outdoors. 

Adults may need guides and tips and maps. But kids don’t. They trust themselves and figure it out. They can and will be at home in the outdoors, if we give them space to be. When it comes to hiking (and lots of other topics, for that matter), kids are the ones who should be giving us advice.

On a hike through the Sandy River's floodplain, a five year old climbs a log. A one year old whacks a fern with a stick. 

"There's a spider! Where is it going?"

"I'm hot, can I take my pants off?"

"Airplane!"

It's really not a "hike" – more of a meander. We walk, sit down, run, go back, keep going, fall, get up, inspect, climb, fall, crawl, splash and balance. There are issues, of course – somebody gets sand in his eye, somebody has a splinter. But we recover.

Walking leads to questions, ideas and deer tracks in the soft mud.

Are those deer tracks? I'm not sure, but yeah, let's say they are. This is not a competition. You don’t need to know everything. It can be as much about imagination as ecological reality. And you don’t need an agenda. You can turn around and not reach your destination. 

I'm not saying ignore your kids (steep drop offs, water, poison ivy), but most of the time you can hang back. Stop talking. Let them play. Trust them.  Bite your tongue when you want to say "be careful." Because they're fine. They need this. It's freedom. You need it too.

Most of all, you need this time together. So whether you actually hike, or walk 100 yards, or just sit on a rock by the stream, enjoy just being.

And maybe someday a child will write a "hiking with adults" advice column.

Klean Voice Contributor Amy Kober is the Senior Director of Communications at American Rivers, as well as the mother of two little boys. She lives in Portland, Oregon.