Recently, I returned home from a run in the mountains near my home, and was greeted by my three oldest kids, who were all dressed and ready to go for a run.
This was not the first time this had happened, so I knew what I needed to do. I put my hydration vest back on, packed the pockets with enough PROBAR FUEL bars to share, and said, “Let’s go.”
The response I got was not one that I was expecting: “Mom, we want to go alone.”
I was a little taken aback, but that was quickly masked by my excitement that my children wanted to go running in the mountains.
So, I took off my vest, gave it to my oldest son, and watched as they headed out the front door, toward the trailhead of a trail we frequently hike as a family.
30 minutes came and went, and I started to get a little concerned. Did I make the wrong decision to let my kids go alone? I began thinking the worst, and sent my husband to go look for them.
It was only a few minutes later when I saw the three of them barreling down the mountain, with my husband not far behind on his mountain bike. They were just fine, and smiles abounded.
They told me all about their adventure getting to the top. Apparently, they had lost sight of the trail, and had bushwhacked their way to the top.
It was then that I realized that although I was glad they were home safe, there were some things that I needed to teach them before I let them head out again. So, the next morning, despite their grumbles, I joined them for a run, with my sole purpose being to teach them how to be safe on the trail.
Here are 7 rules to teach your kids about exploring the trails:
- All senses must be awake.
Just before we headed out, my 9-year-old daughter grabbed her iPod, and I snatched it right back. “Rule No. 1,” I said. “No headphones on the trail.” I told her that when in the mountains, all of your senses need to be awake, and that includes ears. If there is a snake, you need to be able to hear it; if somebody falls down, and is calling for help, you need to have your ears open to respond quickly.
Reluctantly, she agreed, and we went on our way.
- Drink early and often, and don’t forget to fuel.
After a few minutes on the trail, my youngest daughter was asking for a drink. The older kids didn’t want to slow down for her, but I took this as the perfect opportunity to let them know that you need to drink at the first signs of thirst, and eat at the first feeling of hunger. If you wait, it may be too late to reap the benefits.
Pretty soon, I was passing around the water and bites of food for everyone.
- There is safety in numbers
Because I had my youngest kids with me, my part was less than a run, and more of a slog. I let my older kids go up ahead, but told them they had to stop every five minutes to let me catch up. I also told them that they needed to stick together; there is always safety in numbers.
- If you get lost, stop where you are, and make noise
As much as I drilled in their minds that they needed to stick together, my three oldest boys ended up leaving my 9-year old daughter behind. She ended up right in between them and me with my younger two.
I heard her calling for me, and when I caught up to her, she was still on the path. She had lost the trail, because that part had gotten slightly overrun with weeds.
I directed her where to go, and told her how proud I was for how she handled the situation
- Watch your step
Just seconds after redirecting my daughter, I heard my 8-year-old son calling my name, and his cries were actual cries. He had caught his foot on a rock, and fell down, scraping his back.
Thankfully, it wasn’t a bad injury, and he was able to continue on. But, I took the chance to teach him how to best watch his footing. “Don’t look down, because you will miss what is ahead,” I said. “But, don’t look too far ahead, because you will miss what is right in front of you. Keep your eyes about 10 feet ahead, then you will see what is right at your feet, and just ahead — including snakes and other wildlife.
- If you see a snake, back away, and give it space.
Thankfully, we didn’t encounter any snakes, but saw many snake holes. I made sure to give them the following rules from the Department of Wildlife Resources:
- Enjoy yourself
Even with all of the safety precautions, I wanted my kids to know how lucky they were to live so close to the mountains and it’s foothills. We took time to look at the views below, smell the wildflowers, watch ants busily making their hill, and look upon the various rabbit and deer paths along the way.
I feel a little more comfortable sending my kids to explore, and hope they keep asking to go.