While for most of us, snowshoeing is a perfect activity in its own right – considering the exercise and peace of a snow-covered winter landscape among other things – for kids, especially the younger ones, it may be just a little too peaceful and calm. A little planning though can create a fun experience for kids and also satisfy your own snowshoeing needs.
As with any activity it helps to know your audience. What do your kids, or the kids who may be joining you enjoy? Are they animal lovers? Are they old enough to search for fine details, to be challenged with species identification?
Do they have experience on snowshoes already or should you be incorporating games and activities to get them used to using the shoes?
Although knowing your route is important with any winter activity, it becomes especially important with kids. Understanding what adventure you might find along the way goes a long way in creating fun, as does knowing the return-trip length of your journey to ensure it is suitable for younger bodies that may not have the stamina a longer trip requires.
Even the best of times can be spoiled by a bad mood, an unexpected incident or a just-in-case not prepared for.
For any winter outing, snacks and water are important to keeping energy levels up and dehydration at bay. For kids, snacks and water can also provide a necessary distraction and something to occupy hands and minds. Pack enough water for everyone on the hike and plan for a variety of snacks, including a special treat worth looking forward to.
Extra mittens are always a good idea on outdoor winter activities with kids. All it takes is one too many tumbles in the snow for mitts to become wet and unwearable. Just one tumble into deep powder can result in a snow-filled mitten that will need time to dry.
Depending on the ages of the kids, it might be advisable to pull along a toboggan to carry some of the extra gear and to help make sure everyone makes it out in one piece. Finishing the walk by sled or taking a break with a sled ride while enjoying a snack may give young ones the break they need, both physically and emotionally to get through to the other end.
Try a few games to make the walking part of the activity fun. Questions/ activities like:
- Count how many steps it takes you to reach that tree up ahead.
- Let’s try sidestepping from here until that rock.
- Who can get from here to that bend in the fewest steps?
- Can you make your steps go all in a straight line?
You get the idea. Make walking an adventure with little games, even shorts races scattered here and there and you’ll keep kids busy and entertained.
Plan a Scavenger Hunt
Whether you plan for a prize at the end or leave the joy of discovery to be the prize, kids love scavenger hunts. If you know the area you’ll be traveling you can pick out some fun finds specific to the area such as a unique tree along the way or a fork in the path you know exists. Even if you haven’t walked the path before there are some common winter finds that can keep kids alert and engaged as you walk.
If it’s a sunny day melting icicles on trees, dripping snow, shadows and wet bark can be easy finds. If the day isn’t sunny, icicles at different heights – up high on trees, at eye level… or even a count of the number of icicles they can find can be entertaining.
Have the kids look for animal tracks and then give extra points for guesses as to what kind of animal it might have been. See if you can spot any furred or feathered creatures themselves. Look for remnants of bird’s nests, signs of berries birds might still be able to eat during the winter, or traces of scat. Come on, you know kids love finding poop.
See if older kids can identify different species of trees or find samples of different kinds of leaves that may be lying on the ground, or dead but still dangling from branches. Look for moss growing on trees, signs of animal dens or holes in trees that could be providing shelter for some winter creature.
How about pine needles, a frozen flower, dried or wet sap on a tree, the biggest rock they can see or two rocks that look alike, frozen water, a living insect…? Just because the world around you looks similarly white, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain dozens of hidden treasures.
Geocaching has been around just since the year 2000. Its history is actually quite interesting https://www.geocaching.com/about/history.aspx. Essentially it involves a practice of leaving something behind, marking it, and then hoping others can find it. Some caches are traveling caches. Visitors to these caches are encouraged to take an item, leave an item, and then reposition the item they have taken somewhere else in the world. Others are just for looking – not to be taken – but may have a log within for you to record your name and home.
There was a time that caches were primarily found through GPS locations posted on the web which you then needed a GPS and good mapping skills to find. Good or bad, advances in technology now mean that you can download maps directly to tablets, iPads and phones and built-in GPS locators will literally lead you to the spot: http://www.geocaching.com/mobile/ Be aware, especially in winter, that a well-placed cache will be above the snow-cover so once you reach your destination you may literally need to look high, as well as low.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of finding caches you may even want to leave one of your own and can plan an outing around finding exactly the right location.
Whether you are a passionate snowshoer, a beginner, or someone who likes to dabble in a number of different winter activities, taking kids along for the hike can kindle the same interest in them, and help create a generation of active winter enthusiasts.