It is wonderful to get calls from parents wanting to know which trek to take their children on. Parents who are keen trekkers themselves know the value of the outdoors. Children learn life’s lessons quickest when they are on an adventure.
So when do you start kids on trekking? The answer is as young as possible. But not in the way most parents think.
First, you need to understand a few physiological truths. Children grow rapidly. Every day, their arms and limbs gain strength and grow new muscles. With them running around the whole day, their lungs are getting larger and processing more air. Children seem to possess an infinite bundle of energy. Yet, like a cheetah that springs after a gazelle, these energies are in bursts. Children cannot sustain the endless energy required on a trek. Which is why on a long trek, children tire easily.
When children are tired, they get bored and lose interest in the surroundings. They absorb less and soon, the purpose of taking them on a trek gets lost. Parents are often left with a crisis to handle.
Children seem to possess an infinite bundle of energy. Yet this energy comes out in bursts. They do get tired soon. It’s best to choose treks that are not too long, but with small distances covered everyday. Picture from Indiahikes archive
Like any other sport, children need to be gradually introduced to trekking. Here is how you go about it:
By the time children are three, it is time to expose them to the outdoors.
Take them out of the city and on a nature walk. It doesn’t have to be in the hills. Even a nearby pond or lake will do. Give it a theme, like a flower walk. Get the child to show you flowers of 5 different colours. Keep the walk not more than an hour or so. Always set a theme for your walk. It could be a flower walk, a bug watching walk, a leaf collecting walk, stone gathering walk. Kids love the sense of collecting things. So allow them to bring back their collectibles.
Very soon, your children will start to badger you to take them out on theme walks!
When they are four or five years old, children get more adventurous.
They want to explore more. It is time to take them on longer walks. Target a local hillock and see if you can challenge them to get to a point halfway without your help. It is ok if they lose sight of the target and get interested in something else along the way. Walk as long as they are happy and full of energy. Reward them with a sandwich or something to eat when they reach the target (yes, avoid chocolate rewards!). Show them how to get to the milestone by reaching smaller targets like a big bush on the left and then the brown boulder on the right. Life’s lessons are built in.
A visit to a nearby hill station at this age does a world of good to their memories.
Children love small rewards on a trek. It could be a sandwich, it could be a badge, it could be a certificate. Picture from Indiahikes archive
By the time children turn six or seven they are ready for day treks.
Their understanding of the world has increased manifold. They love challenges. Enroll them on day hikes or take them on one.
On the trek, see if you can get the child to cook a small meal. Make them self sufficient and set out tasks for them. For example, talking to a few locals and getting directions could be a task. Pouring over a map and locating spots on the way could be another. Cleaning litter from the trail could be another.
Kids at this age love organizing things. Get them to organize the gears for the trek, or the food. With digital/mobile cameras you could get them to photograph the trek as they see it!
When children are eight or nine, they are strong enough for a four/five day Himalayan trek.
They have been mentally prepared and look forward to the trek. They can easily manage without parents. They make ideal team members. The confidence gained from a Himalayan expedition sticks with them for long. It reflects in their studies and other activities.
Some of the treks that come to my mind are the Dayara Bugyal, Deoriatal Chandrashila, Ali-Bedni Bugyal, Kedarkantha, Brahmatal, Phulara Ridge and the Har-Ki-Dun treks. These can be done in May and June when children have holidays in school.
A little later in the season (if some schools are closed in June), the Bhrigu Lake and Beas Kund in Himachal Pradesh are terrific.
Best Himalayan Treks For Children
A Himalayan trek does wonders for kids. They become great team players, get a big boost of confidence, and do better in their studies and other activities. Picture from Indiahikes archive
What happens if you have never done the preparation that I have laid out and yet want to start your child on trekking?
You don’t have a moment to lose. Start them immediately, but choose what’s best for them. If they are 5-6 year old, don’t think of a Himalayan trek. Start with day treks with themes. If they are 8-10 year olds it is okay to start them on easier Himalayan treks, but accompany them. If they are into their teens get them to do Himalayan treks but without you.
Preparing your child in terms of fitness for a trek is also important, however old they are. A month and a half before the start of their trek, get them on a fitness schedule. Prepare their lungs and limbs for the trek. A cardio workout for half an hour, with some squats and push-ups, is enough. I strongly recommend running as a good preparation for the trek.
Get your children involved in organising the trek. Do not pamper them by organising everything for them. Get them to study the maps, the location and the geography of the area. Take them along to buy or rent gears for the trek.
Have dinner table conversations with your children about the trek. Talk about how they can contribute to the trek as team members.
These preparations help children prepare mentally for the trek. It keeps them excited and involved.
I have seen both parents and children change as a family unit on our treks. The lessons learnt on these treks are invaluable.
This year Kaamya Karthikeyan was one of the 32 children in India to win the Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Puraskar award. It is the highest civilian award given to children of our country. Kaamya was given the award for her extraordinary achievements in mountaineering and adventure sports.
Kaamya started her Himalayan journey with Indiahikes at the age of seven with the Chandrashila trek. She went on to do the Har-Ki-Dun, Kedarkantha and the Roopkund trek with Indiahikes.
Today Kaamya is the youngest girl in the world to summit Mt Aconcagua and the youngest girl in the world to ski down Mt Elbrus. Kaamya is 13 years old now.
There could be a hidden Kaamya in your child.
Treks give children valuable life lessons. It is ingrained in the trek and requires no teacher. Parents recognize this and want their children to imbibe them. I see an increasing number of young parents encouraging their children towards trekking. This is a welcome movement that is starting in India.
If you are a parent and have tried something with your child I would love to hear your experience. Use the comments box below to share your stories.