Being a long distance backpacker, Jules began to lose his mind hiking at the 1.5 mile an hour pace of a 2 and a half year old. When it took 20 minutes due to looking at every twig, snail, and rivulet of water, Jules would begin to get a little tense. By the time it got to lagging behind from fatigue Jules would already be worked up and the proposition of not completing the hike would put him over the edge. As such, we developed a bunch of games to play while hiking that The Barracuda really loves and they keep us up to pace.
Mr. H over at Subsistence Pattern was looking for ideas to keep his grandson interested while still covering some miles when they were hiking. Up until this point, I hadn't really considered too much all the games we played with The Barracuda while we were walking along. I figured I'd throw them up here for everyone else out there looking to get a bit more for their mile.
Warning: Many of these games are only played with one parent. For whatever reason or 6 year old has decided, certain things are not allowed to cross gender lines. You may need to experiment with which parent is involved before finding a match.
We will play I Spy when The Barracuda seems to be preoccupied with everything around him. This way he walks with us at whatever pace we are going and still gets to look around. We originally started small with "I spy a flower" or "I spy a leaf tree" or whatever. It has now progressed to "I spy a Western Red Cedar" or "I spy Salal" or "I spy a shelf fungus." We take turns and he gets to have us spy things as well. This has really helped with the constant movement. It also works to keep him from realizing he might be getting tired. If we have walked in silence for a while or we notice him dragging a bit, we pick it up and he quickly forgets about any fatigue. I'm amazed at what The Barracuda can remember. The game helps to impart some concept of nature's biodiversity, as well as sharpening observational skills and descriptive adjectives.
This is a Dad only game. I've tried; no dice. Silly things are reserved for his father and I'm there when the games get out of hand and someone gets hurt. When The Barracuda seems completely enamored with something, has had time to look, and is dragging on, Jules will come up, smack him, scream "TAG!" as loud as possible and then go tearing off down the trail. The child cannot resist this. Regardless of how tired he was or how cool whatever it was he saw, he will follow in hot pursuit. Jules (who is 6'4") will allow himself to be tagged after a bit, give the kid a very dramatic head start and then chase after him a while. Jules also will switch it up by sometimes completely pretending to be tired and being very over-dramatic about it. The Barracuda will begin encouraging him to continue. Jules will then say "Psych!" tag the kid and run away again. The fake out then makes the kid all the more anticipatory. He will pay extremely close attention to Dad and not his own hiking. (Personally, mom thinks it gives them both breaks so they don't pass out from an embolism due to running with packs on.) It continues until one person falls down fairly hard, gets pushed over, or Dad becomes exhausted.
You can cover some serious mileage with this game, even if it is only in bursts. The game makes all sense of fatigue and time disappear.
Hide and Seek
I'm sometimes allowed to play this game. More often than not I'm supposed to be the straight man suggesting places Jules could have hidden. I'm also supposed to be extremely surprised when hidden people leap out at me. Scaring Dad isn't funny. Scaring Mom is hysterical.
Originally, Jules would over dramatically run ahead on the trail and "hide." This term is used loosely, especially when he is dressed in orange and 6'4". Now he tends to sneak off like a ninja making the game incorporate ninjas and ultimately be cooler.
I then notice that we can't see Jules anywhere and begin looking in weird places: under The Barracuda's hat, in tree stumps, up in the branches of the tree, inside the dog's mouth, etc. After I can't find him (and much child giggling) I will announce the need for help and suggest that The Barracuda should run ahead and find his Dad. Off he will bound. Jules will give helpful noise clues here and there if the child was really getting distracted or having trouble. Once found, The Barracuda will join Jules hiding. They will wait for me, often with the same noise clues if I'm not traveling fast enough. Another elaborate looking session will ensue "I wonder where The Barracuda went...maybe he is under this nurse log?" I ask the dog for help. I look under pebbles. You get the idea. They then jump out at me, I will fake being scared and exclaim how fabulously he hid. The boy then runs ahead, hides himself for his dad to find, and then both leap out at me again.
Currently this is working because he is 6, wearing bright red, and hides in places like behind a bush which is see through. In a bit we may have to revise it so we do not loose the child.
Though it is a bit like leap frogging up the trail, the running ahead keeps the kid moving. We also have the rule we have to be able to find him from on the trail so he doesn't go off somewhere weird and get lost.
This is a game which is somewhere attached to the Y chromosome. I don't get it. Both the males think it is rad. The Barracuda claims it is his favorite of all the games. The boys will take turns calling each other the most vulgar things they can think of and then laugh about it. Poopy fart face, penis pincher, snot rocket, puke infected drool nose, butt munch, turd nugget, the list goes on and on....I don't know. They will play it for over 45 minutes and compliment each other on when they have a "good one."
Mom has instituted the rule it can only be played with Dad or Grampie since when The Barracuda tried to play it on the playground we got parent complaints. It keeps him moving, he LOVES it, and apparently he is bonding with his father.
Crazy Science Quiz
This developed when I Spy got a bit old and for a while was apparently "Baby-ish." It isn't anymore, but it was for a bit. Whatever... I just go with it. Since we use hiking to do a lot of homeschool science, this game helps us to see if he is actually applying anything we have talked about. It also helps that it is something fun he likes to do. This is not a Dad game. Apparently Jules isn't qualified....Again, I don't know, I just go with it.
I will come up with a science question like "How do you know it is a Cedar tree?" or "What are the three ways we identify trees?" or "What is this little river called when it runs into the big river down stream?" or "What kind of clouds are those?" etc. This is something we would have covered either in I Spy or in some form of discussion previously. Then I make it sound like I don't know if he will know the answer, that it is really hard, that he might just be too young to know the answer. All of this makes The Barracuda listen really well and definitely gets his attention. Sometime hints are used, sometime profusely. When he gets it right, I then gush over how extremely amazing that was, how there are lots of people and adults who wouldn't know the answer, how he must be a genius. Child is rather giddy and proud of himself.
He then gets to ask me a question. Sometimes this involves the woods that I have no idea about such as "What kind of fungus is that?" pointing to some random mushroom. Sometimes it is totally bizarre like "How come Guadie (the dog) licks her crotch?" or "How come sometime I fart and it smells really bad, but sometimes it doesn't?" Sometimes it involves girls "Why does Claire only play with me if Parker isn't around?" I don't know what goes on in his little head, but it keeps communication open. He will talk much more if we are walking than if I try to talk to him when he is sitting down. It also means that he has to keep his pace up with me and forgets about how far he is hiking.
The Barracuda is included in looking at the map constantly. We actively talk about features to look for. "There should be a trail intersection up ahead a ways. Can you look for it?" or "See that big lake, which side of the trail would it be on? Can you see if you can find it?" That kind of question keeps the kid not only having to get into the map, but also observe the terrain. He is then looking all around and not paying any attention to how he is feeling tired or how far we are going. It also gives him very tangible rewards. We made it to the lake, next it is the big hill or scree slope, then the trail intersection. He can plan our hike as well as developing topographical skills.
Magic Energy Drink
This is so ridiculous I am waiting for the moment it no longer works. Jules first made a big deal out of telling Dae about Magic Energy Drink because it was very special and secret. I thought Jules was crazy. It always works though.
Jules has a special Nalgene bottle. We bring it hiking. It is filled with Magic Energy Drink (aka watered down juice or watered down Gatorade). Sometimes I will put food coloring in to make it look even more mystical. When The Barracuda gets tired and still keeps going, he can then have a drink of Magic Energy Drink. This child will do amazing things after drinking it. He will do amazing things if he knows he gets to drink it. Supposedly he is gifted, but every time this works makes me wonder.
As another portion of homeschooling, The Barracuda has started a nature journal. We take digital pictures of at least 3 things he wants to remember or finds cool while we are hiking. They then are drawn into his journal later, he identifies them via the internet, and he lists their distinguishing features. It was originally an add on to learning about Lewis and Clark. I thought he would only do it for maybe two entries, but the kid LOVES it. He does it all the time and now that he knows he doesn't have to personally remember every detail that helps with looking at every worm, bug, stick, lichen, rock, leaf, on and on and on. It has also helped him develop quite a nice vocabulary for trying to describe what he sees.
Jules is a high school English teacher with a huge selection of environmental literature. We read a lot of environmental literature and poetry to The Barracuda. When we hike, we now take turns saying lines of the literature. Dad: "Whose woods these are I think I know" The Barracuda: "His house is in the village though" Me: "He will not see me stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow" on and on and on. Dad: "So much depends upon" The Barracuda: "A red wheel barrow" Me: "glazed with rain water" on and on and on. Dad: "He clasped the crag with crooked hands" The Barracuda: "Close to the sun in lonely lands" Me: "Ringed with the azure world he stands" on and on and on. We talk about the imagery, the setting, the metaphor/similes, the mood/tone, the main idea, etc. Though it is more of the homeschool thing, it is also a great way to bring both the text to life and the woods to words. We have found The Barracuda's ability to articulate himself greatly increased because of the literature we have read. John Muir has this incredible quote about "the burled backbones of trees" or Alfred Lord Tennyson describes a river as "the wrinkled sea beneath him crawls." They are providing language to many things The Barracuda had become frustrated trying to explain. Now he has help with the words.
This game mainly keeps The Barracuda moving and focused on the words not every tiny other thing. In explaining his thoughts he forgets about miles, we are once again communicating, and as a family we are sharing the woods in intimate ways.
Mainly, don't underestimate your kid. Often The Barracuda kicks my butt hiking because he is a little powerhouse of energy and doesn't begin to hurt like I do. Talk to them, listen to them and just have fun being with them. The Barracuda is so very full of interesting ideas, neat connections, and awesome goals I never would have learned about had we not just started up a conversation.
We started hiking seriously when he was between 2.5 and 3 years old, and began off trail/backcountry hikes at 3.5. Currently, he can hike back to back to back 8 mile days in stride and would probably max out at 10 miles if we really let him. We're trying to get him up to 12 miles every day for a minimum of a week out. He is determined to through hike the AT before 9 and then the PCT before 12.