Hiking is one of the most therapeutic pass times that you can engage in. It calls all your physical and emotional senses into action simultaneously. The fresh air, natural sounds, and epic views create memories that you will cherish for years to come. Also, the physical activity gets your blood pumping and breathes new life into your muscles and bones.
This article focuses on things you should consider when hiking with children with special needs. If you know what to look out for, any child can enjoy hiking. The hiking tips listed here are widely applicable to all children. However, since no two people are completely alike, you may need to adapt this guide to suit your situation.
Why You Should Hike With Your Kids
Parenting has often been called a gift that keeps on giving. Most people enjoy all the changes that come with parenting. However, many hiking enthusiasts hang their boots when they get children. Despite the changes you need to make, there are several ways to enjoy your hobbies while parenting. Hiking is one of the various hobbies you can enjoy with your children.
It is challenging to create real connections with your kids today. You are in constant competition with television, video games, and the internet. However, introducing your kids to hiking can give you a unique way to bond. Hiking can help you get your kid’s attention in a world that is bombarded with digital media and passive entertainment. This is especially true for kids with special needs.
Hiking can build a sense of independence in your children. It releases them from the security or confinement of your home. Active engagement in outdoor activities can build your children’s self-worth, confidence, and character. Going out into nature and experiencing true adventure can teach them how to face their fears. Here are ten ways to ensure you enjoy hiking with kids who have special needs.
1. Seek Medical Advice
Children with special needs have varying conditions that you must be prepared for. In essence, you should consult your doctor before planning the hike. Your doctor’s advice can guide you when choosing a hiking destination and season.
Your doctor can help you find effective ways to prepare your children for hiking. He can also teach you how to identify and address your children’s unique needs. Make sure the doctor advises you on the types of medication you should carry on your trip.
2. Plan Your Hike Well
Any activity that involves children requires comprehensive planning. Every aspect of your hike needs to be well thought out before you begin. This is especially true for children with special needs.
Hiking can be an exciting or exhausting activity depending on how well the day is planned. For children, it is important to plan several rest stops. Also, you need to select routes that will not wear out your kids. When you begin hiking with your kids, plan out simple routes with low elevation. As they develop endurance and interest in hiking, you can gradually increase the distances and difficulty.
Even as a seasoned hiker, you need the progressive build-up of hikes to learn how to hike with children. Hiking with children is nothing like hiking with adults or alone. Children are curious and may be interested in features you would normally overlook. You will need to go at their pace if you want them to enjoy the hike.
You should also plan a day of rest after the hike. This gives you the chance to stay home with your kids and reflect on the trip. You can spend the day going through the hiking photos and have some downtime together before resuming your ordinary routine.
3. Prepare Your Kids Mentally In Advance
Children with special need work well with established routines. Before making any major changes to your usual activities, you need to prepare your children mentally. Since all children are unique, there is no standard amount of time you should take preparing them. However, there are several ways to familiarize your children with hiking.
You can build up the idea of hiking by talking about it. Begin to explain to your children what hiking is all about. You can also watch videos or look at hiking photos together. Another way to prepare your children mentally is to buy the hiking gear together. As your children see your passion for hiking first-hand, it can spark their interest.
Hiking is an engaging activity that can fail if your children are not interested in the beginning. You should also prepare yourself mentally. Children with special needs require close attention. They can be extremely vulnerable in new environments. You need to boost your awareness and responsiveness in preparation for your hiking trip. This could mean taking some refreshment courses in first aid and specialized childcare.
4. Understand Your Kids Body Language
Your non-verbal communication skills will be called to action when you go hiking with children. If you have succeeded in getting your kids excited about hiking you have won the first battle. However, their excitement can keep your kids from voicing discomfort. You will need to pay close attention to your kids’ body language. Many kids with special needs have unique mannerisms and gestures that an untrained eye may miss.
You need to understand how your kids behave when they are not comfortable, tired, irritated or hungry. If you don’t spot your children’s challenges in time, you may strain or wear them out. If your children become overwhelmed, they may lash out in tantrums, shut down, or even faint. This can be very challenging more so if you are on a remote hike. An incident like this can also give your children a negative impression about hiking.
5. Stick to Familiar Hiking Trails
Hiking with children is not the time to explore new routes. You should stick to paths and hikes that you are familiar with. You need to be aware and confident about every hill, valley and bend on the trail. You cannot afford to get lost or stuck when hiking with children with special needs.
You can avoid surprises by scouting the hike a day or two in advance. This will help you to learn everything about the route. You will discover the tough and easy sections. It can also help you to plan rest stops appropriately along the route. Your kids will enjoy the hike a lot more when they have the assurance that you are familiar with the route.
6. Create and Reward Progressive Milestones
Positive reinforcement is a great way to build the confidence of children with special needs. When hiking with children, you can come up with milestones and prepare them in advance. This is one great reason to hike a route you are familiar with. You can create milestones at key points of the hike such as overcoming a steep climb, passing the halfway mark, or crossing a feature like a stream.
Children value the encouragement of parents and guardians deeply. As such you should find every opportunity to express your approval of their efforts. You can decide whether or not to use treats for rewards. However, many children with special needs respond very well to kind words, warm hugs, and a genuine smile.
7. Be Flexible and Have Contingencies
For children with special needs, you need to have two or three alternatives for your primary hiking plan. Having alternatives helps you to adjust to changes in the weather or your children’s needs during the hike.
Your contingencies should not only be focused on alternative routes. You should be ready to abolish the hike if any of your children are not ready for it. A negative hiking experience can be engraved in your children’s memory for years. This can be challenging for children with special needs to overcome.
If your children have aversions about hiking, you can combine the trip with something they like. The combination can help your children to associate positive feelings with hiking. This can be as simple as going out for your kids’ favorite meal after a hike. If you are consistent, your children may start loving and looking forward to hiking trips.
8. Pack Lots of Water and Snacks
When hiking, you should carry as much water and snacks as you can. It is important to remain hydrated throughout your hike. Children may not have the same resilience and endurance as you. Poor hydration can cause headaches, exhaustion and many other challenges.
Also, children with special needs may need a constant supply of snacks to keep their energy levels up. You can fill your backpacks with water and snacks because your baggage will get lighter as you consume the contents. On the way back, when you are exhausted, you will appreciate the reduced weight of your backpack.
9. Dressing and Weather
Weather conditions have a huge impact on your hiking experience. While you cannot control the weather, you can adapt to it. Review the weather forecast on and around the days you want to hike. This will help you to choose the best time to hike and dress appropriately.
If you expect it to be sunny, don’t forget to pack extra sunscreen to protect your kids from sunburn. You should also carry some insect repellent lotion. It’s not ideal to spray bugs in their natural environment. Insect repellent oils keep you safe from bites without interfering with the ecosystem.
When hiking in cold weather, it is better to dress in layers than heavy sweaters and jackets. As you hike, your body will generate a lot of extra heat. The layers of light jumpers or sweaters trap your body heat and keep you warm. Heavy jackets and thick sweaters can restrict your movement and tire you under the extra weight.
10. Pack a Fully Charged Phone
Many people go hiking to escape technology and reconnect with nature. However, we live in the information age and your mobile phone is a lifeline. Make sure you leave home with at least one fully charged mobile phone when you go hiking. Also, make sure some of your friends and family know where you and your children went hiking.
The distribution of modern telecommunication systems is so well advanced that you can get a mobile phone signal almost anywhere. If you get lost, injured or in any kind of trouble, it is useful to be able to call for help.
While hiking, you can keep the phone off to preserve its battery life as well as to minimize distractions. Try to leave the phone for emergency use only. Focus on spending interactive time with your family during the hike.
The list of points to consider when hiking with children with special needs is endless. There are many more lessons you will learn on the route once you start hiking. Children with special needs thrive when you provide them with stability and consistency. If you start hiking with your kids, work on making it a regular activity. You don’t need to conquer mountains or epic ridges. When hiking with children the time you spend together and real connections you form are your real victories.