Kids in Charge: Planning Activities

Recently, I wrote about flexibility when planning activities with kids. Today, I’m writing about stepping back and letting my children take more of a planning role in our activities.

My family loves to hike. I have a lot of ideas about where and how to hike in and around Albuquerque. My daughters also have a lot of ideas about where they want to hike and critically, what they want to accomplish on their outings.

One of the tenets my husband and I have is that we want to grow daughters who are confident and comfortable in many situations. We also want our daughters to learn to take initiative in our outdoor activities.

Clockwise from upper left: Tent Rocks (NM), Pacific Coast (Los Angeles), Exploring the Albuquerque Bosque (NM), Gramma-granddaughter backpacking (NM).

One way we do this is to put the planning of one of our hikes/walks/activities in the hands of one of our daughters. Our 7 year old is all about planning: where, when, what snacks, gear we’ll need, what’s the weather (she recently discovered the 10-day weather app on my phone and is a serious weather fanatic now), can we take the dog. The 4 year old is more fantastical in her planning, but with some guidance, we can generally help her to guide us to her favorite hiking locations. Presently, the 4 year old is psyched on walking by the Rio Grande, where we regularly see porcupines and recently a bald eagle (!!!).

Letting the kids help plan is amazing. It’s also crazy. We have paper maps, digital maps, places we’ve hiked in the past, places we want to go.

With the girls in charge, we start by asking the very basics:

  1. What are we doing? (Hiking, walking, swimming, climbing, etc.)
  2. Who is going? (Parents? Kids? Friends?)
  3. Decide beforehand the length of the outing (all day, morning, just an hour)
  4. Decide when this activity is happening. (Weekend, after school, next summer)
  5. What’s the season and weather? (Summer = hikes happen early, Winter = swimming is indoors)

These first few inform more specific questions:

  1. What gear is needed? What food is needed? Talking about activity, duration, and season/temperature helps kids make this list realistic.
  2. Do we know this location – or is it a new place? What maps/guidance might we need? What might we expect on this trip? This begins to build the critical skills of awareness of place and person that will grow throughout life!
  3. What might we need to look out for? Hazards vary; recognizing and rating them is a learned skill. Heat/cold extremes, animals (rattlesnakes?), terrain (slippy rocks, steep hiking), weather-related hazards (lightning, flash floods, daily temperature changes), personal risk (hydration/nutrition, personal condition), navigation error, all need to be talked about to some degree, growing with age.
  4. Who is our emergency contact, and what is our emergency plan? What happens if Mom falls down and doesn’t get up on the trail with two kids? My daughters know how to use a cell phone to dial emergency services when we’re in an urban area, and they know we hike with a SPOT device (where it is, how to turn it on, which buttons to push) if we have an emergency outside of cell phone range. We drill on this before each hike, right up to pretending to push the SOS button. Whistles, mini first aid kits, and regular hydration breaks  are probably our biggest concern much of the sunny, hot year in New Mexico.
Playing on the banks of the Rio Grande.

These are the bare-bones steps our family takes when our daughters are planning the trip. In large part, these outings are short hike-walks in the open spaces around the city, and we have a lot of experience, so much of this can be done informally. However, our 7 year old daughter has the plan of taking one backpacking trip each month of summer this year, so we are planning ahead with her and are starting to talk about the details of what goes into an overnight backpacking trip with Dad and two daughters even now (Mom will be home with a newborn, so it’s a new adventure for all). 

If you’re looking for the above guidelines in a printable form, click on this Kid-Guided Trip Planning Checklist.

We celebrated her 5th birthday with a mom-and-daughter backpacking trip.

Want more information or have questions? Comment below! 

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