The weather is cooling down and the leaves are turning. Fall is a fantastic time to take your preschoolers for a hike! Research shows that spending time in nature is healthy for body and soul.
At Meridian Hills Co-Op, families are no strangers to enjoying the great outdoors and we’ve asked a few parents for tips and tricks to make hiking fun for the whole family.
Is it safe to hike with young kids? Yes! Indiana has many well-maintained parks and trails. Just pay attention to the weather and plan accordingly as you would for any other family adventure. It’s best to discuss expectations and set a few ground rules before heading out onto the trails each time you go hiking. Some examples include staying on the path; asking a grown-up before picking anything up; staying with a buddy; being able to always see each other; and knowing what to do when they feel lost or encounter wildlife.
Where should we go? For your first time hiking with young kids, pick a park that is nearby so no one gets restless on a long drive. Trails with a destination such as an overlook or a lake add some purpose and sense of achievement to your outing. Our favorite parks near Indianapolis include Eagle Creek Park, Fort Harrisson State Park, Holliday Park, Cool Creek Park and Ritchie Woods Nature Preserve.
Once you get more adventurous and don’t mind a little longer drive, Turkey Run State Park, Shades State Park, McCormick’s Creek State Park and Springmill State Park are great destinations with trails that are exciting and suitable for young kids.
What do we need to bring? Snacks, (lots of snacks!), water, bug spray, bright (layered) clothing, a small container for treasures, basic first aid supplies for scrapes and bruised egos, patience, and flexibility. Comfortable shoes are a must, but they may look differently for everyone. Some kids prefer hiking shoes or hiking sandals, some are just fine in Crocs or Natives. For rugged terrain, it’s best to avoid fancy sandals, flip flops, and even rain boots. Don’t be afraid to get wet and dirty.
Won’t they complain the whole way? Probably not the whole way. If they do get uncomfortable, it’s a great learning opportunity to sit with those feelings and power through. Give kids some control over your adventure: Include them in decisions on which trail to pick from the map, where to stop for a snack, and who should be the leader on a narrow path. Carrying a light backpack with essential supplies they pack themselves does wonders for their sense of independence. Let kids investigate and explore bugs, plants, and animals along the trail. And if none of the above seems to lighten the mood, there is always I spy, scavenger hunts, more snacks and trying again another time.
Did you know? At Meridian Hills Cooperative Nursery School and Kindergarten, we play outside every day! Our Kindergarten students spend entire school days at Holliday Park in all weather and we dedicate an entire week in January to go hiking.
Which local park will you try for your next hiking adventure?