Make hiking a family practice
As Jeff Alt explained in his presentation, "Get Your Kids Hiking: How to Start Them Young and Keep It Fun," getting your kids to hike is all about taking advantage of what they already like.
Alt stressed the importance of taking children into nature for their own good.
"Hiking with kids is important because you instill an appreciation for the outdoors, and the younger you start the better off you are," Alt said to the crowd of approximately 75 in the Ukulele Room of the Music Road Convention Center. "It offers you a time with your family away from the hustle and bustle ... and you can just focus on each other."
Alt recommends getting children out into the wilderness as soon as possible, even while the child is an infant. He said you should start by carrying your infant on a hike because even though the child doesn't understand where it is, it still absorbs everything.
But you don't have to start out on the trail. Alt said the importance is making walking a routine because children respond well to familiarity. Making walking a routine is the key to getting kids to hike in the first place.
Alt's wife, Beth, demonstrated how to properly use a backpack or child carrier, which Alt recommends until the child is about 3 years old. Expensive clothing should not be a priority at this stage, just make sure the clothing is a synthetic material rather than cotton.
"Don't get too concerned with the gear right now, but avoid cotton," Alt said. "If you take anything from this, avoid cotton."
Frequent stops can allow for infants to explore the area themselves. Even if they're just crawling, they're still interacting with nature.
Once children are a little older, the key to maintaining their interest in hiking is to make it fun. To do that, just bring what they like.
"Everything they say to do as a parent with your child at home, you can do on the hike," Alt said. "Read books to them. Read about what they might be engaged in, anything with the outdoors or animals in them."
Bring the snacks they like, and give them an adventure backpack with hiking tools like a compass and binoculars. Children will be able to learn about these things while using them and engaging their surroundings, and you should talk to them about everything they're seeing.
"You want to build that language while you're out there," Alt said.
When children are able to walk, Alt said the hike changes to child-directed hiking. He said your goal now should be to follow the child and let them explore.
"It's key that you let them lead because if you leave them in your dust now, they're going to lose confidence," Alt said. "This is a very critical stage."
Alt expressed one reservation: Don't hike in bad weather. For one thing, it's not safe, and it will also be a negative hiking experience for your kids.