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With the changing leaves, cooler temperatures, and a need to relieve our months-long cabin fever, this fall is the perfect time to take up hiking as a family.
Spending time outside has many health benefits for kids and adults alike, says Nurse Practitioner Vivien Haupt of Atrium Health Levine Children’s Cotswold Pediatrics.
“Getting outside is good for not just physical health, but mental and emotional health as well,” Haupt says. “Exposure to sunlight can help raise Vitamin D levels, and exercise can help release endorphins, which helps make kids and parents a little happier. This is something we all need during quarantine.”
We asked Haupt to share what we need to know about hiking as a family and here’s what she had to say:
Educate and explore
At a time when many kids and parents spend hours staring at a screen for work and school, heading outside for a hike can provide a much-needed opportunity to unplug.
Haupt says spending time outside is great for cardiovascular health, and hiking is a fun and interesting way to get the doctor-recommended 30 to 60 minutes of exercise daily.
“Technology can be very helpful, but too much of it can take a toll on our physical health (with problems like) eye strain … and on our mental health,” she says. “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends less than two hours of screen time per day. This can be difficult with long hours spent on the computer for school, so giving kids and parents a chance to ‘unplug’ for a few hours is really important.” And just because you’re away from the screen, it doesn’t mean the learning has to stop.
“Going on hikes gives kids and parents a chance to explore and experience some of the things they are learning about in school ‘hands-on,’” Haupt says. “Getting out in nature and exploring the environment can be your own little science experiment.”
During your hike, she suggests pointing out the different types of trees, flowers, animals that you see along the way, and even discussing littering and recycling in order to preserve hiking trails for others.
If your child is older, build self-confidence by allowing him or her to explore the area within reason, and celebrate as a family after completing a longer or more challenging hike.
Anticipate and prevent problems
Hiking with kids does come with challenges. Bugs, hunger, boredom, and general crankiness can all rear their ugly heads during what was supposed to be a relaxing and fun adventure. Haunt says the key is to come prepared. Bring snacks and extra water, even for a short hike.
Beat bugs by wearing insect repellant per these AAP guidelines: use a product with no more than a 30 percent concentration of DEET, do not use on children younger than two months old, do not use more than the recommended amount, and wash off once you’re inside. Other ways to keep the bugs at bay include avoiding extended periods of time in areas with still water, staying away from insect-prone areas during dawn and dusk, wear light-colored clothing and layers.
To keep ticks away, Haupt suggests staying on cleared trails and avoiding thick brush. She also says you should always check for ticks after hiking. Also, don’t forget sunscreen and a hat even if you think your hike will be mostly shaded.
Banish boredom by letting kids have some say in the hiking experience: let them pick a resting spot to have a snack or explore different plants and animals throughout the hike. Haunt also suggests singing, learning, and playing throughout the hike to keep the hike interesting and the children relaxed. And her best piece of advice: be flexible and have fun.
“With kids, something unexpected is bound to happen,” she says. “Being prepared will help take the stress out of an outdoor adventure, but also remember to enjoy yourself and the experience as well.”
Pick a kid-friendly trail
Some of our favorite area trails include the Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill, where kids can get an up-close view of farm animals and historic log cabins. We also love Big Rock Nature Preserve in Ballantyne, where you’ll find truly enormous boulders for kids to be amazed by (and climb all over!)
Older kids will love the 336 wooden steps to the summit of Crowders Mountain, but younger ones will like the shorter flat trails as well.
Further north we like Lake Norman State Park, which has a short paved loop that’s great for strollers, as well as unpaved options and a lake that’s teeming with fish for young anglers.
Vivien Haupt, CPNP is a nurse practitioner at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Cotswold Pediatrics. She has been with Atrium health for 4 years. Vivien attended graduate and undergraduate school at Vanderbilt University and her clinical interests are asthma, newborn care, adolescent medicine, and weight management. When not at work, she enjoys spending time with her husband and 15-month-old daughter, working in her garden, and cycling.
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