We Courchesnes do a lot of hiking, walking and trekking. We have long since left behind the brief but golden years of baby in backpack, wherein we could move at our accustomed pace with a mostly sleeping infant/toddler lolling in the carrier. Now, we are in the slow moving, adjusted expectations phase of hiking with preschoolers. We no longer do much summiting of mountains, and we rarely exceed a 1 mile per hour average pace. So, as the pleasures of the hike shift from quiet, solitude, and reflection, to fart jokes, 20 questions, and singing repetitive songs, one gradually comes to terms with one’s altered existence.
Now, when we hike, we seek out flatter terrain, and aim to have a physical reward at the end. Kids are not overawed by panoramic vistas, but they’ll hike pretty well if there’s a swimming hole at the end. Or really excellent snacks. And while grown-ups on their own will pensively plod along, enjoying the sensations of the walk, kids generally need a good deal of distraction to make it all the way through the hike. Here are the main ones we use:
1) Epic stories of the Toad King. When hiking in the close, fecund woods of New Hampshire, one often finds tangles of roots overtopped with thick mats of moss. These are obviously the palaces of the narcissistic and arrogant, though benevolent Toad King. He maintains summer palaces, winter palaces, and often gets himself into trouble through hubris and ineptitude. He has attempted kayaking, luge, and gold mining. He has died several times, but always comes back to life. The good thing about the Toad King is that we see a lot of toads around here, so the boys get to do a lot of royalty watching.
2) Participatory fiction. One person gives the first line of a story, and then all members of the party take turns adding to it. A typical Courchesne story:
Mom: “Once there was a half salamander half vulture who was dissatisfied with his life.”
Dad: “So he sent away for a self-help video from the home shopping network.”
Malcolm: “But instead he got lasers and a Yeti.”
Simon: “And then vampires came out of the woods and… KILLED them ALL!”
100% of the time, Simon ends the story on his turn with “and KILLED them ALL!” But maybe you will have more success.
3) Riddles and 20 questions. We mostly do 20 questions since my kids are a little young for true riddles. But I gave them a riddle that started out, “Lucy and Bill were found dead in a pool of water. What happened?” Malcolm sort of got it, but from then on, Simon would periodically adopt a creepy whisper and say, “Lucy and Bill…were found dead in a forest.” Or, “Lucy and Bill were found dead in the ocean.” Hilarious. Maybe eventually we’ll get beyond this, though with a mother like me, it’s unlikely that these children will grow LESS morbid with time.
When these fail, we sing 999,999 bottles of root beer on the wall. So much for silence and pensive contemplation. At the end of our hikes, I sometimes feel mentally wiped out, but physically still pining for my pre-child rambles in the mountains. And then, my boys, who had been shrilly whining non-stop, will suddenly say, “I loved that hike.” And I’m a goner for sure.