The pace may be slow and the distractions many, but getting to share a child’s first outdoor adventure is a complete joy.
It became clear, just two hours into our walk to Nina Hut in the Lewis Pass, that we weren’t going to make it before dark. We’d set off at midday and the track was rougher than expected, boggy and crisscrossed with tree roots – no problem for adults, but slow going for four-year-old Ahi.
We were also slowed by Ahi’s numerous ‘firsts’. First swingbridge ever, requiring multiple crossings. First successful attempt at downclimbing, which meant practising at every opportunity – even those rocks that could’ve been tackled upright. And, as it was mid-June, a first encounter with ice. Ahi wanted to smash every frozen puddle with his walking pole, to marvel at the cracks and fissures.
Meanwhile, Nic and I watched the sun scooting towards the western ridgeline. It would be dark by 5.30pm. We’d taken three hours to cover 4km.
With another 4km to go, we decided there was no point in pushing the pace. We had ample food and clothing, the track was well marked and – ice and swingbridge revelry aside – Ahi was going as fast as he could.
When the sun disappeared, there were still 2km to walk.
“Here you go,” I said, pulling out the head torches.
“For me?” Ahi said incredulously. This was an item we were forever taking off him during daylight hours to save batteries. Now he was the route finder and was eager to spy the next orange triangle and its glowing red dot. The thrill of being given a torch was second only to being out after dark.
A whiff of woodsmoke signalled the hut, and soon we were pushing open the door. To Ahi’s delight, another family was already there.
“Other kids!” he announced.
Soon he was sharing his cardboard emergency vehicles – the toy equivalent of dehy – with his new friends, aged five and three. We four parents exchanged appreciative glances – we’d have an hour to get dinner on uninterrupted. Now, where was the whisky?
Later there were more firsts – sleeping in a top bunk, putting himself to bed at 7.30pm like the other kids, seeing the abundance of stars in the night sky …
Ahi’s pleasure at staying in a hut, in mastering new skills and meeting new folk, reminded me that tramping with kids, for all its frustrations – the snail’s pace, the endless snack stops, the absolute lack of a workout – was worth it. The more he enjoyed it, the more he wanted to do it, and the more we shared the places we loved with him. And hopefully, the more he would value them in years to come.
How to get young kids outside
Here are some ways to encourage young kids into the outdoors that worked for us:
1. Double the time a walk would normally take you, to factor in rest stops and playtime. Make it enjoyable for them so they want to go again.
2. Invest in good quality, grippy footwear, especially if your children are still learning to walk. No one feels confident on unsteady feet.
3. Team up. Children forget they’re doing the hard slog when they’ve got company.
4. Snack often. Children have high metabolic rates and don’t have much in reserve.
5. Get them involved – whether packing their own pack or helping cook dinner, they have a better time when they’re part of the action.