I’m not an expert on children. I don’t have any of my own, or at least none I know of. And while I was allegedly a child once myself, that was a long time ago.

That said, I try to learn from other people’s examples. And last month I published a guest post by Zeb Acuff¬†¬†describing how he kept his young children engaged during a hike. So when I recently had to plan a hike in Valley Forge for a friend and his four children, I kept Acuff’s article in mind, and planned accordingly.

My four challenges in the Springhouse at Valley Forge.

Based on that article and my own reading I came up with three rules that promise to help keep children happy when you lead them out on a hike.

  1. First of all, I kept the hike about something other than hiking. Valley Forge has several trails for the hiker. I could have led the children up Mount Misery, for instance. Its a nice loop hike of less than four miles. But it also features a climb without a vista or overlook. Ditto the trails on Mount Joy. And the Joseph Plumb Martin Trail features a lot of monuments, but aside from a few cabins there’s nothing for the kids to DO. So, I decided Washington’s Headquarters would be a good destination for the young people. They could tour the headquarters, see inside a cabin, and visit the restored train station.
  2. It also kept the distance relatively short. Our hike was three miles round trip, and while it was on a walking path it wasn’t flat. We took our time. When the kids wanted to sit down under a tree for a minute, we let them. For a minute. We kept them moving, and keeping them moving helped me as I….
  3. …. kept them focused. I had the help of their father in this, and the two of us asked questions and brought up topics that had them thinking while walking. Could these cabins stay warm in the winter? Yes, and I’d explain how. How tall were Washington’s soldiers? Five foot eight inches, and I explained why Americans are taller now. Children have a desire to learn, and feeding that desire is key to keeping them engaged.
Statue of George Washington at Washington’s Headquarters

The trail itself is the branch I left out of the article on Valley Forge I posted earlier this week. Instead of following the main Joseph Plumb Martin Trail from the statue of Von Steuben, we crossed Route 23 and followed the winding, hilly path a mile to the Washington’s Headquarters complex. The kids loved the cabins and springhouse, touring Washington’s Headquarters, and the restored Reading Railroad station. The latter has, in addition to interactive displays on the army encampment, examples of antique technology from the railroad days – telegraph key, manual typewriter, switching box, and a few others.

The kids, and their father, had a great time. So did their guide. I think I did well following the guidelines I suggest in this article.

What tips or advice do you have for hiking with kids? Please share in the comments below.