Hiking games that motivate kids and keep them happy and moving are great tools to be able to call on when you’re outdoors. Let’s face it, we’ve all been there: ‘No. I’m not moving’. There’s just no getting away from the fact that kids are difficult sometimes. It literally happened to me in the supermarket last night. Jesse decided he wanted to race around the aisles rather than walk with me. I had the audacity to say he couldn’t as he’d get lost. What happened next was that classic parent-child stand-off.
Like two cowboys in an old western, we stared each other down next to the broccoli, each waiting for the other to blink first. Jesse flinched as if to make a dash for it. I reacted and attempted to grab him. Too quick for my aging limbs, he avoided my advance but, knowing he was beaten, he resorted to that classic technique of public humiliation: the drop and flop. Unable to stand him up as a consequence of his now jelly-like legs, he giggled and giggled and giggled. Little…!!
It’s bad enough on a quick trip to the supermarket. Imagine this happening on an otherwise beautifully planned walk or hike. You see, when you’re outdoors for any length of time with kids, you have to see it through their eyes. They might not be interested in hiking to the top of that hill or summit; they probably don’t care how beautiful you find that lake. Kids need far more engagement than our wearied brains can sometimes provide. So, just how do you minimise the chances of them getting bored outdoors? How can you foster their love for the outdoors by providing them with a brain-busting collection of happy memories? It’s easy: you just need a few tried and tested trail activities.
One of our favourite hiking games is close-ups. Most of us now carry with us a phone with an inbuilt camera when hiking. The idea behind this game is that the person with the phone walks ahead while the people playing the game (kids – big or small!) turn around to face in the opposite direction. The person with the phone then takes a close-up photo of an interesting, unusual or downright disgusting trail feature. This could be anything from toadstools to rotting vegetation, buttress tree roots to dead insects. Once you’ve taken the picture, return to the kids to show them what you’ve discovered. Then, give them a set amount of time to search the area in front of them. If there’s more than one child, trail goodies, such jelly babies, could be given to the first critter to correctly locate and identify the object.
Other hiking games really foster and encourage outdoor learning. Nature cards are great. Whether you’re using downloadable ones, such as those available from the Woodland Trust, or whether you decide to design and craft your own, these are a great way of keeping little ones enthusiastic whilst outdoors and hiking. Sell it as a scavenger hunt where they either collect examples (fallen pine cones, leaves etc.) or, for items where a leave-no-trace approach is important, photograph them (bird’s nest etc.) in order to complete the hunt. This activity is great as an on-going task as they’re unlikely to locate everything on their first trip to the woods. You could also tailor these to each of the four seasons, so children begin to appreciate how environments, habitats and wildlife change throughout the year.
Some more modern hiking games make use of technology to engage you and your kids. If this sounds more up your street then geocaching may be for you. This 21st century hiking game adaptation of the humble treasure hunt is another great way to motivate kids outdoors. By creating a free account at www.geocaching.com and then using the GPS in either your phone or handheld navigational device, you’ll be on your way to hunting treasure. Ok, so the treasure may be a plethora of small, inconsequential items, but kids (big and small) get really excited at the prospect of uncovering something that someone else has hidden. The idea is to take a small trinket or knick-knack with you. That way, once you’ve found the item left by somebody else, you replace it with your item and leave it for another family to find. Cool, hey!
Build Animal Shelters
The autumn and winter make an ideal time to teach kids about animal habitats and hibernating mammals. By using sticks and leaves that have fallen to the ground, families can make small animal shelters during rest stops. Arranging the sticks into a wigwam, and then creating a nesting or comfort layer with the leaves, is a great way for children to learn about the importance of shelter. Hiking games like this don’t just teach children about outdoor habitats, they wear them out too! If you really want to show off, you can find dead foliage to cover the roof or even build a human shelter.
In this game you’ll need to have either some tree identification cards or one of the mobile apps that are freely available online. The game begins when you call out the name of a tree. Each child then has to correctly identify one of the trees in question and run over to it. The last one to touch the tree is out. The winner is the person to touch the correct tree first in the final round.
What is your favourite outdoor game? Let us know in the comments below or via our social media channels and we’ll share the best.