Getting to the very top of the mountain, the summit, is thrilling. It is a clear goal. It can be a welcomed challenge. The payoff is huge: breathtaking 360-degree views, an overwhelming sense of euphoria, and a big grin of accomplishment. Summit trails are by far my favorite hikes.
But being goal-oriented doesn’t work well with preschoolers. Performance expectations can produce the opposite than desired effect.
A friend recently shared a simple and powerful philosophy about how to structure outdoor experiences with children.
There is only one rule.
- Have fun.
Other than than Rule No. 1, there are only guidelines.
Adopting this one rule changes the relationship with the hiking experience dramatically. Rather than the goal of the hike to be making the summit, for example, I arrive at the trailhead with the goal to have fun with the possibility of making the summit (or lake, or loop, or whatever). With fun as the barometer for success, decisions throughout the hike are based on internal (how are you feeling?) versus external (did we reach our goal yet?) signals. I’ve been surprised the number of times I reach a trailhead with my daughter only to spend an hour moving just a couple hundred yards. One muddy day we barely made it out of the parking lot!
I find that I frequently adjust the plan as we hike in order to maximize how much fun we are having, without worrying about my preconceived notions of what we may have achieved had we been moving at a faster pace, taking less breaks, or hiking in a straighter line.
The lovely bi-product of having fun is that your preschooler will enjoy hiking more, which encourages the desire to repeat. Since repetition drives physical development and skills mastery, the ultimate result is that achieving goals, such as getting to the summit, is actually possible. The first summit that my daughter and I made it to was not a remarkable leap from previous hikes. It was the opposite. It was a fun and easy hike that just happened to be a little longer, a little higher, and with a spectacular 360-degree view of the Continental Divide.
This is part of a series of Hiking with Preschoolers.