Tramping with pre-schoolers (3-5 years)

Sage advice for families in the last few years before school.

This resource was created during FMC’s Outdoor Community campaign, celebrating and encouraging Family Tramping. Check out the other blog articles on Family Tramping here on Wilderlife. As always, if you’ve got wisdom to share on this topic, then please get in touch and we can add it to this resource. 

Thank you to these people who contributed toward this resource:

  • Rebecca Gray, FMC Administration Officer and mother of three young trampers , 
  • Anne Dowden, Tararua TC family tramp coordinator, and mother of three teenage trampers.

Bring a friend

Try to invite another family, or get the kids to bring a friend; all kids walk best with similar aged company!

Family of three! Rebecca Gray collection

Start early

Kids have more energy earlier in the day. Meet at the track end at 9:30am for a 10am start, have an hour long lunch break so you complete a 3-4 hour walk by 2 or 3pm (with some spare time if the walk is longer than expected; or plenty of time at the hut/camp site.) It’s horrible marching cold, hungry, tired kids hard as darkness and the cold is setting in.

Consider the type of track

Children this age want interesting things to see and do on the way and will want the opportunity to stop and explore.  They also want to walk along an interesting track and will be more enthusiastic scrambling over rocks and tree routes than on a benched track or 4WD track.

Behind Sunrise Hut, Ruahine Range – Rebecca Gray collection

Consider the pace

These kids will need more stops than an adult group.  They get tired quicker, but also regain their energy quicker, so despite grumbling while they were tramping, once at the destination they will be running round while the adults just want to rest.  

Older preschoolers, 4-5 year olds, will usually be able to keep up with a slower adult group, however, like with adults, there will be a range of fitness levels. 

Rebecca Gray collection

Food – treats are ok

Trampers don’t need to avoid treats because they are burning heaps of energy – in fact a few sweets are encouraged. But also take substantial energy giving food too (like cheese, crackers, meats, eggs, nut butters, muffins/muesli bars, sandwiches). Get them involved at home helping to pack the food for the trip. 

Take enough energy rich lunch/snack food. Lots of kids have a much bigger appetite in the fresh air. The kids won’t stave but you will when they eat all your lunch! 

Reading before bed- Rebecca Gray collection

Get them carrying some of their own gear.

Kids especially like carrying some of their own gear which they are responsible for; it’s a great way of involving them in the trip, and teaching them what is important to take into the hills. 

  • 3 year olds should be able to manage a few snacks and a warm hat
  • 5 year olds can add a jacket and some water. 

Parents should bring a big enough pack; just in case junior runs out of puff and parents need to become porters!

Families out exploring – Ken MacIvor

Keeping them walking: bribes and a positive focus

If a family is on a trip without other similar ages children, bribes definitely have their place – one jellybean/pebble/wee cracker at a time can get you a long way.

A positive focus will work way, way better than bribes but it’s quite exhausting for parents!

Bring your imagination from home;

Anne recalls; 

The fastest 5km walk I ever did with a preschooler, was also the most enjoyable and is still fondly recalled 12 years later. It was the one where we talked at great length about bush-elfs. We made up an entire world, stopping occasionally to peer into hollowed out trees, and under toadstools  – I couldn’t even see them because I was too big, but my wee son could see them peeking out behind trees because he was small and elf like … 

The loudest walk was the one where we taught  the kids to use the whistles on their tramping pack straps in case they got separated from the group. On the way home, the whistles were used non-stop, which was a bit noisy, but the walking was fast, in time with the blasts and a lot of fun.

You could even find an old tramping song book, or dredge up some favourite tunes to sing loudly and off-key through the bush. 

Pack something for the ride home

Leave some extra drinks, fruit, and a packet of biscuits/cake in the car for the ride home. A special treat like stopping for an icecream could be starting a habit you’d rather avoid, but it could also be an excellent way to remind kids of the ‘good’ parts of going tramping for the day.  Don’t forget to pack a chilly bin for cold drinks in the summer. 

This resource was created during FMC’s Outdoor Community campaign, celebrating and encouraging Family Tramping. Check out the other blog articles on Family Tramping here on Wilderlife. As always, if you’ve got wisdom to share on this topic, then please get in touch and we can add it to this resource. 

Thank you to these people who contributed toward this resource:

  • Rebecca Gray, FMC Administration Officer and mother of three young trampers , 
  • Anne Dowden, Tararua TC family tramp coordinator, and mother of three teenage trampers.

Last updated: 21 November 2019

Wilderlife