Written by Sarah Beck, mom, guest blogger & long time Earthroots participant.
When my husband suggested a backpacking trip with our two and four year old kids this summer I was hesitant. I love camping and being outside with my family; but car camping is an endeavor to say the least. The amount of work, gear, and planning it takes to simply get out the door can be incredibly overwhelming. And now my husband was proposing that we pack both kids and all of our gear up a mountain for an overnighter? I honestly wondered if it was possible.
Beck Family geared up for the big hike. Photo by Erin Lutrick
Layla, our four year old daughter is moving into her second year of the Forest Kindergarten program through Earthroots Field School. We LOVE it. Oddly enough, even though my husband is an outdoor enthusiast, he has questioned my choice to enroll our kids in Forest Kindergarten. “It is too expensive” and “It takes too much time” are some of his basic arguments for why we should maybe not do it. I agree. It does cost money and it is almost a full days commitment. And much like his proposed backpacking trip, Forest Kindergarten requires forethought, gear and planning. The thing is, I wouldn’t provide my kids with 5-6 hours of weekly consecutive outdoor time if it were not for Earthroots. I wouldn’t teach them about our local ecology or how to take the time to really enjoy being out in the wild on a regular basis. If not for Forest Kindergarten, connection to wilderness would be something my kids would see a few times a year versus once a week. There is huge value in this.
So, there we were, my husband hesitant about Earthroots and me hesitant about backpacking. Jodi’s blog post about backpacking came at the perfect time. I was incredibly nervous about packing our kids up a mountain and there it was, 5 Tips to Backpacking with Children.
I read it to my husband after our kids went to sleep one evening. It created a platform for discussing how best to plan our adventure.
Tip one: Keep the mileage short. We both took this to heart. We determined that I would likely be carrying my 2-year-old son on my back, my husband would carry the majority of our gear and our 4-year-old daughter would hike on her own. We both wondered if she could really do it. We decided that 2 miles should be our maximum hiking distance.
Tip two: Allow plenty of time for exploring in the woods. This was amazing advice. We live in such a busy world where we are constantly rushing and ushering our children to the next event or errand. Kids like to take their time to observe and wonder about the world and it is so rare that we allow them the opportunity to go at their pace. We agreed that in order for the trip to be a success for our kids that we had to allow them to take the lead.
Snack time on the trail! Photo Jesse Beck
Tip three: Bring food that is varied, nutrient-dense, and fun. My husband and I really struggled with this one. What food should we bring? What would we make for dinner? What kind of snacks would be best? So this tip was incredibly helpful for us as we packed and picked foods for the kids. While we did pack nutrient-dense snacks we also packed a few surprise treats that we don’t normally eat as a fun surprise to keep the kids motivated. This worked great!
Tip five: Positivity is key. This was easy advice to follow. We were away from our regular life, outside in the mountains, and away from the stress of our normal life. We worked really hard to encourage our daughter so that she felt confident about her ability to hike 2 miles up a mountain.
So we packed our things, headed up to the Eastern Sierras, met up with our friends who have a 20 month old and an almost 6 year old and started hiking up the mountain. I think perhaps a 6th tip would be to: Be prepared for the unexpected. There are some major fires happening in the Western Sierras right now and air quality was incredibly smoky. We had to choose a new location further south for our hike to avoid the smoke.
The minute we hit the trail it was evident how much Earthroots has impacted our kids, particularly four year old Layla. My husband noticed and immediately commented on how natural our daughter appeared on the trail. She was tuned in to the plants and talked about them; she looked for scat from animals and informed us. She asked questions about what animals lived in the area. She noted the creek and trail and discussed our destination. The trail was about 2 miles long, rocky, and steep. We heeded Jodi’s advice and stopped a lot. We followed the lead of the children allowing them to determine the pace. Our daughter insisted that she carry her own backpack with her own water and snacks. It took just over four hours to make it to our destination, but the destination was a huge reward. We found a beautiful campsite next to a lake, caught fish for breakfast and dinner, built a fire, used the outdoors as our bathroom, enjoyed “camp food”, and experienced the richness of the wilderness through our children’s eyes. We enjoyed a morning adventure where we explored the lake and the area around it and did more fishing. (The fishing and cooking of the fish was Layla’s favorite part of the adventure). Our hike home was downhill and steep, the kids led the pace and rocked! My husband mentioned many times during the trip that he now saw the value of Earthroots and the lessons that Forest Kindergarten conveys. Our children’s natural understanding and comfort outdoors is directly influenced by Earthroots.
I think we underestimate the ability of children and as parents often opt out of experiences simply because the idea of doing things out of the ordinary with children can be overwhelming. While I was initially hesitant, our first backpacking experience was an amazing. Through our experience my husband and I both learned lessons and changed perspectives. I opened up to the idea of overnight backpacking as a family and my husband saw first hand the value and impact of the Earthroots experience.
Earthroots is offering a Family Backpacking Training series that begins in September. Check out the program and experience the awesome combination of family backpacking and Earthroots Field School!
Maybe we’ll see you there, we intend to do a lot more backpacking in the future!!