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Sometimes children find long hikes boring and tiring, but if you can turn it around to play some games along the way they can find things a lot more interesting.

What are some good games to play in this regard? The obvious classic is I-spy, but are there any other gems out there?

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As a Scout Leader I deal with this quite often. Here are some activities that don't "distract" too much from being in the wild - hopefully they embrace it :)

  • Singing (If you've got songs and like to sing it's great, but it isn't everyone's cup of tea.)
  • Spotting birds and plants (Will require some preparation and experience)
  • Learning wilderness skills (Finding a heading using various methods, how to find water, how to forecast the weather)
  • Giving them the map (or whatever you navigate with) to let them lead.

I will especially recommend the last point. Being in charge of finding the right way is an occupying activity. Depending on how much supervision you give (or appear to give) they will quickly grasp that they are the ones finding the way.

  • 5
    I would add that if the kids are a bit older, adding points scoring for activities can make it a great competition. My eldest two are quite competitive so they try extra hard to beat each other. – Rory Alsop Apr 24 '12 at 8:41
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    +1 on navigation practice. Even without maps, we often play "which way is..." Which way is the car, north/south/east/west, the shortest way back (if on a loop), the nearest road, home, whatever. Everyone can play, and it instills a habit of being aware of the quickest way out if there's a problem... After a while, you can sometimes see the kids continue to work it out on their own. M&M or gummi bear rewards for right answers are especially motivating... – Matthew Wetmore Mar 13 '17 at 4:34
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Calculating Distance: Some may not consider this a "game" per say, but could be if approached in that manner. However, it is something I continue to use even with adults, to keep minds occupied. If the distance of the hike is known, even relative, ask people for different statistics regarding the distance of the hike.

  • How much of the hike have we done in miles? in percent to completion form? For both one way and round trip?
  • How many miles to our destination? Convert this to feet? Convert this to your personal stride?
  • Estimate the number of steps you've taken. How many more do we have until we reach the destination? Will this number grow or shrink on the way back? (This can be fun if anyone has a step counter)

Granted this requires someone of age to do certain math calculations and more known trails, but it can keep people occupied on hikes that don't provide a lot of scenery. Added bonus is that the calculations will change very frequently meaning that this can be repeated several times throughout the hike.

With off trail hikes, this can even become a good discussion issue which can keep the group focused and talking.

  • Guess how many steps it will take (you/me) to get to (something) is a game I've played with a two year old even around the house, and wagered on with adults. – user8348 Mar 16 '17 at 19:24
  • out of curiosity from someone who doesn't know about miles and feet, do people really know how many feet are in a mile? – njzk2 Mar 16 '17 at 20:57
  • @njzk you'd be surprised how many people know this. I usually use meters in a mile as a mile run is 4x around a track or 4x400meters and then do the math from there. 5280 feet in a mile or 1600 meters (1609.34 to be exact). 39.3701 inches in a meter and 12 inches in a foot. Doing these conversions in your head is part of the fun...? – bhilgert Mar 16 '17 at 21:33
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Naming of objects. One player says the first letter of the name eg "I spy something beginning with G." The other players have to guess what it is, eg "Grass". The one who gets it right then takes their turn.

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    "I Spy" is already explicitly mentioned in the question... – Philip Kendall Mar 12 '17 at 16:00
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Depending on the specifics of the terrain, one game that can help break up the "monotony" of walking for kids is to play a variant of "the floor is hot lava." Make a game of trying to go down the trail by only stepping on rocks and not dirt. Naturally terrain dependent, but gives kids a way of having something to focus on. It is particularly useful for getting kids that last mile back to the trailhead or camp.

As a caveat, not that they will use more physical energy to travel like this (as well as a marginally increased chance of a slip). As such, if kids are lagging due to being physically tired, it's probably not the best choice. However, if they're lagging due to being bored of walking, it can be a great way to gamify a hike and use some different muscles.

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My kids enjoy playing "The Alphabet Game", "I'm Going on a Trip", and "20 questions".

The Alphabet Game This is a version of I Spy. Each person has to spot something that starts with each letter of the alphabet, starting with the letter A and going in order. Those with the sharpest eyes tend to reach Z the quickest, but only if they are paying attention. (Example: A - Ants, B - Bird, C - Pine Cone, etc. ) Kids, and older people, with smaller vocabularies and knowledge learn quickly from the game and soon compete well against Alphabet Game Veterans. For example, when someone spots a porcupine quill for the letter Q, younger kids will remember what to look for in the future for that letter. Each player goes through the alphabet on their own and is not allowed to leapfrog off what another spots - and whoever spots it, claims it. So, if everyone is on C and a single Clark's Nutcracker flies by, whoever spots it first, and names it, gets to move on to D. A sharp-eyed and knowledgable player can reach Z while another is still back near the beginning at, say, the letter F. They also have to spot the object/animal when they need the letter, otherwise it doesn't count. Adults have no advantage in this game over an attentive youngster. Also, the rules can be adjusted for hard letters. For example, if they are allowed to spot items carried by the group, then Z is really easy: just spot a zipper on someone's pack.

There's only one winner per game, but the game cannot start again until everyone has either finished or quit (usually a player wants to quit only when they are really tired). Those who have finished will usually start pointing things out, but not saying anything, to help those that are lagging - all so they can hurry and start the game again.

Caution: This can create diversions on your hike. For example, if everyone is on the letter F right as the trail nears a creek or marshy area, the players will probably scatter out looking for Fish or Frogs. But that usually just adds to the fun, doesn't it :)

We also do a version of this game when driving, trying to find the alphabet letters on road signs, license plates, business signs, even mountains (towns around here like to put giant white letters on mountains, just the first letter of their town). We've tried to come up with other versions, too, like picking a book that we've all read and taking turns naming a character whose name starts with the letter our turn falls on. But the only book that has worked out with has been the Harry Potter series (it was lots of fun the one time we played it, but it was just dull the next time we tried).

I'm Going on a Trip This is a memory game. The first person says "I'm going on a trip and I'm taking a ________. They name something. The next person repeats the statement and adds one more item. The game continues, each person adding a new item at their turn, until one player forgets something on the list. Everyone pays attention and tries hard to remember because they want to catch another player saying something in the wrong order or skipping an item. When you get it wrong on your turn, you're out. Last person still in wins.

20 Questions I think most people know this game, but here's my version for whoever doesn't know: Someone imagines something (usually something they just spotted). The game starts when they've got the image in their head. Then anyone can ask questions - only yes/no questions. The person being asked the questions must always answer honestly (or no one will ever want to play with them again) and cannot give any help or hints (we break this rule if younger kids are playing). The game ends when someone correctly guesses the item. The winner then gets to choose the next object and the game starts over.

Singing This was mentioned above, but I'm repeating it here only because it's really not very popular very often. I think it takes a lot of energy (and oxygen). Plus, it sometimes just sounds like a bunch of noise - especially to other folks out there in the woods. About the only time we sing is if we're really in the mood (lots of energy) or somebody's scared of something (like it's getting dark and we're still hiking).

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    The alphabet game demands a mention of this actual Wyoming State Highway sign located on Togwotee Pass (outside of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks): s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/ac/1b/ab/… (text on sign: "Stuck in the alphabet game? QXYZ You're Welcome" – erfink Mar 17 '17 at 4:56

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