Nothing can ruin a peaceful hike - for everyone - than a child who's getting bored, tired, or cranky. When your child starts to tire out, the first thing you should do is stop for a rest, some water, and a snack. Often this is all a child needs to recharge and be ready to go again. However, if the hike is a bit too long for him or you've run into unforeseen problems (like getting lost or mistakenly taking the long way around), you'll need something more to keep his spirits up. In these cases, nothing works like distraction.
Singing is a wonderful accompaniment to hiking. Once our older son started school, he loved to teach us songs that he learned in music class. Like all children, the chance to teach his parents something is a great ego boost, in addition to passing the time. At other times, my husband and I will suggest or lead fun songs to keep the boys' interest. Any classics or family favorites will do, but some are particularly well-suited to hiking. Our boys especially like echo songs, like "I Met a Bear" or repetitive songs like "The Ants Go Marching." I often think back to my old Girl Scout days and have dredged up such oldies but goodies as "Calamine Lotion" and "I'm Happy When I'm Hiking." To find lyrics to old favorites you've forgotten, check out the website www.kididdles.com.
When they tire of singing and we're still not back to the car yet, we keep them amused (and distracted) by playing games as we hike. Twenty Questions is a classic, but our boys have always preferred our own version, "Guess Which Animal I'm Thinking Of." Even our two-year old gets in on the fun, and our six-year old recently stumped his dad by coming up with human being as his "animal." "I Spy" is another simple classic in which even toddlers can participate.
As your children get older, you can engage them with more complex games. We recently introduced our first-grader to "I'm Packing My Trunk," where each person in turns names an item to pack in the trunk, in alphabetical order. The game kept him thoroughly amused while honing his alphabet skills.
Other games, like scavenger hunts, can help your children to tune into their natural surroundings, rather than distracting them. If you're embarking on a hike that you know will be a bit challenging, you can even prepare a list of items for them to look for during the hike, based on the flora and fauna of the area. Most of the time, the hike itself and the infinite variety of the natural world will be enough to keep your child's interest and energy levels high, but it's always good to have a few tricks up your sleeve when you need them!