It is wonderful to get calls from parents wanting to know which trek to take their kids on. Parents who are keen trekkers themselves know the value of the outdoors. Kids learn life’s little 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, understand a few physiological truths. Kids grow rapidly. Every day, their arms and limbs gain strength and grow new muscles. With kids running around the whole day, their lungs are getting larger and processing more air. Kids 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 kids tire easily.
When kids are tired they get bored and lose interest in the surroundings. They absorb less and soon the purpose of taking them on a trek is lost. Parents are left with a crisis to handle.
Like any other sport kids need to be gradually introduced to trekking. Here is how you go about it:
By the time kids are three, it is time to expose them to the outdoors. Take them out of the city and on a nature walk. It need not be in the hills. Even a nearby pond or lake would 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 get back their collectibles.
Very soon kids will start to badger you to take them out on a theme walk!
When they are four or five year old kids 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 the child to get to a point halfway. 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 first and then brown boulder on the right higher up. Life’s lessons are built in.
A visit to a nearby hill station at this age does a world of good to their memories.
By the time kids turn six or seven they are ready for day treks. Their understanding of the world has increased multiple times and they love challenges. Enroll them on day hikes or take them on one. Set up a fire and see if you can get the kids to cook a small meal (like noodles). 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. Collecting dead wood for the fire could be another. Kids at this age love organizing things. Get them to organize the gears for the trek, or the food. With digital cameras you could get them to photograph the trek as they see it!
When kids 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 and make ideal team members. The confidence gained from a Himalayan expedition sticks with them for long. It reflects in their studies and other activities.
What happens if you have never done the preparation that I have laid out and yet want to start your kids 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 9-10 year olds it is ok 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.
Treks give kids valuable life lessons. It is ingrained in the trek and requires no teacher. Parents recognize this and want their kids to imbibe them. 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.