Take a hike

Get the kids outside and walking with you

The Rodriguez family plans to hike all 50 states. They’re almost half way there.

"There’s no TV, there’s no phone," says Jenni Rodriguez, the mother of three from Darien. "It’s just you and your family. You’re out there problem solving, there’s so many opportunities for conversation."

Rodriguez began hiking with her daughters, now in fourth, sixth and ninth grade, before they could even walk. They’ve since done trails from southern Illinois to South Dakota, but she recommends families start locally.

"Go to your area forest preserve and pick something short," she says. "Find leaves or bugs, do a hunt … find something they enjoy."

Steve Wood, a father of four and hiking expert and full-time guide for outdoor sports cooperative REI’s Outdoor School, agrees. "The real trick is satisfying the kids’ needs out on the trail."

Wood has these recommendations for parents interested in kid-friendly hiking:

 The hike should be appropriate for the youngest child in the group—the rule is about a half mile per year of age. So, if you have a 3-year-old, only a mile and a half.

 Talk about where you are going. Teach the kids. Build anticipation.

 Always have a surprise for the trail, a snack or a new activity such as identifying different leaves.

 Have a first aid kit. Have a basic safety talk.

 Have a plan. All little kids should carry a whistle. If they get separated, they should sit down and blow three times on the whistle.

 Dress kids in bright-colored clothing that can warm up or cool down easily, so kids don’t overheat. Don’t forget comfortable shoes.

 Bring enough water.

Still, being prepared isn’t always enough. Any parent knows, kids can be unpredictable.

"You also want to consider the possibility that it’s just not going to work out," Wood says. "Try to plan a route that you can bail out on if necessary. You don’t want to wind up with three hours of coaxing the kids back onto the trail."

But for Rodriguez, this hasn’t been an issue. "They really enjoy exploring and finding new adventures," she says. "Each one has something special in terms of memories and what they really enjoy."

Through August, REI is offering Passport to Adventure, a hiking program designed for kids age 5-12. Kids can earn a water bottle and a certificate after completing five hikes. For information or directions to recommended hikes, visit www.rei.com or one of the REI stores: 8225 W. Golf Rd., Niles, or 17W160 22nd St., Oakbrook Terrace.

Zak Garner

Kids Eat Chicago

Copyright 2017 Wednesday Journal Inc. All rights reserved. Chicago web development by liQuidprint