As children, our siblings had a role in helping mold us into who we are today. They made a big impact on our daily experiences and how we developed emotionally, mentally and socially. As we grew, they helped shape our worldview and how we reacted to our environment. And now as parents, we watch our own children repeat that beautiful pattern with each other.

Not only in the home have I watched my children teach and grow from and with each other, but I’ve also seen them practice it on the trail. When we hike, their movements naturally revolve around each other – teaching and learning as they go; giving some and taking some selflessly; and becoming more confident and stronger in every way as they grow individually, as partners and as a team.

I believe part of the reason is their age differences and that they themselves recognize that where the other is weak or in need, their strength and experience can help make the other person stronger.

The age gap by Vong Hamilton for Hike it Baby

Siblings help instill values and character

My little hiking crew consists of my daughter, who is 11, and two sons, 5 and 2. While some might find it challenging to hike with children of varying ages, it’s an advantage during our adventures. Each kid brings a unique experience to the journey, and adjustments are constant occurrences we’ve grown accustomed to. Plus, I enjoy watching them interact and grow together on the trails.

I always joke that the baby will be the smartest of us because he has four teachers to learn from – the two best teachers being his older sister and brother. Much like the lessons he’s learned from them in the home, such as sliding down the stairs really fast on his belly, creating with Legos and emptying the dish washer (the list goes on), he’s also learned so many things on the trails, such as balancing on fallen logs, jumping off boulders, skipping rocks, brushing the owies off and getting back on his feet after a fall, and learning to make nature his playground.

Similarly, each older child is also learning to move beyond his or her own needs to accommodate for the younger one’s needs. They acquire a sense of responsibility toward a younger sibling and step up to be a teacher and a leader. There’s little urging from me to behave a certain way … they just know to take care of and watch out for each other when we hike. They play hard, and some days they fight hard, but they are always each other’s guardian angel on the trails.

Whether at home, in the woods or on a mountainside, I’ve watched my kids learn important skills from each other that help build character and create values at a young age.

The age gap by Vong Hamilton for Hike it Baby

Skills each age group teaches the other

Some things older kids learn through the younger kids are:

  1. Leadership – Without realizing it, older siblings suddenly take on a leadership role. They become influencers – teachers, playmates and role models – and younger siblings look up to them for guidance. Parents can help older kids hone these skills by allowing them to make decisions on the trails or giving them more freedom to explore in their own way and letting the younger one follow along.
  2. Sympathy and empathy – Older kids recognize when their younger siblings are struggling; their instincts kick in and they want to save the day. They learn to be supportive of each other and encouraging when things get rough. My daughter always seems to know when the boys are struggling during a hike and volunteers to carry their packs or says the right words to encourage them. Sometimes it’s just a matter of sitting down with her brothers for a few minutes to make them laugh until they feel reenergized.
  3. Flexibility and adapting to change – Having young children means predictability goes out the window and things can change at any time. A planned epic adventure can turn into a dud really quick and send you right back to the car. Older children have to learn to adapt and switch gears, accepting that their expectations of family adventures may change without any notice. Parents can help them understand that it’s OK to be disappointed but change is inevitable with younger siblings.

Some things younger kids learn through the older kids are:

  1. Motor development – Younger kids pretty much will do anything their older siblings do without question, so without knowing, they quickly pick up gross motor skills, such as crawling, jumping, balancing and running, and fine motor skills like digging up dirt, grasping leaves, and picking up sticks. All just from watching and doing what their older siblings do!
  2. Sensory skills – This is naturally an easy one, and one that any age can benefit from. Older siblings can help enhance younger siblings’ sensory skills on the trails by playing games to test what they hear, see, smell and feel. Parents can encourage this by letting the kiddos explore and get wet and dirty. (Just have extra clothes handy in the car for later in case.)
  3. Courage and confidence – When kids start to doubt their ability, they watch their parents’ reaction before proceeding. If there’s a look of fear, kids will feel afraid too. But when they follow in big brother’s or sister’s footsteps (literally) on rocks to cross a creek or climb a tree or rock wall, they learn to be fearless and face the challenge without hesitation.

The age gap by Vong Hamilton for Hike it Baby

Don’t fear the age gap

Hiking with kids of varying ages doesn’t have to be scary. Sometimes I think it’s easier because they entertain and take care of each other – I’m just there to kiss skinned knees and palms and carry food and water. It’s a great opportunity for all ages to learn from each other and develop skills while creating memories at the same time.

National Siblings Day is April 10, a day set aside to recognize sibling relationships. What better time than now to take the kids into the outdoors and celebrate each other.

Photos by Vong Hamilton.

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What are some of your best childhood memories with your siblings while spending time in nature? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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