Walking with Children... (or getting them away from screens...)
Walking in parks and the countryside is such a cheap and easy way to get out and enjoy nature whilst getting in some quality family time and exercise for parents and children.
Getting children into walking at a young age can influence their habits in later life, hopefully leading to a healthier, active lifestyle.
So how can you get your young ones interesting in walking? Here are some useful tips...
1. Make the Idea Sound like Fun
Don't say "who wants to go for a walk". Instead ask "who wants to explore the forest". If it sounds like a game, young children are more likely to be excited.
2. Choose an Interesting Spot
Many of the walks we adults do aren't that interesting for young people, so make sure that you choose a walk location carefully.
Straight routes and flat paths are boring. Children like places where there is lots to look at. They like to climb over things like logs and beaches and streams.
If there is a famous landmark, all the better, whether that be a place linked to a sport, famous person, film or television programme.
3. Dress Them Properly
There are masses of outdoor kit for adults - and these days there's the same available for young people too. Regatta has a full range of clothing for children and teens, as well as several other kit companies too - whilst dedicated children clothing manufacturers like Kozi Kidz have a great range of exciting clothing for children up to around nine.
There's no need to go overboard, as children have a habit of growing out of stuff very quickly... Make sure that their shoes fit properly and are the right kind of shoes for walking. Likewise, clothes should be loose-fitting and not too hot or cold. Layers are always best. For a real treat, give them a small backpack to carry. Then they can hold the bits that they find along the way.
Remember, younger children can feel the cold more than older kids and us adults, so some extra layers in your backpack is a good idea - especially if you're taking them out in a carrier or an all-terrain pushchair.
4. Don't be afraid of the weather
Our natural instincts as parents are probably to avoid going out for a walk in the rain... but really, if the kids are properly kitted out with waterproofs (see above) then there's no reason not to get out if it's wet.
Perhaps it doesn't have to be the full planned 3 mile walk - perhaps there's a cut down version by taking a short cut to chop out a loop if required...
Of course, children of a particular age will be more than happy to go outside in the rain if it means they can jump in muddy puddles, just like a certain pig...
There is a serious point here - if we only take our kids out when it's dry and sunny, aren't we telling them the only time it's ok to go walking is when there isn't a cloud in the sky?
So... the next rainy weekend, dress appropriately and hunt out some muddy puddles!
5. Keep the pace slow
There is nothing worse than a parent striding ahead and yelling "come on" or "hurry up". If they want to dawdle, dawdle with them - it is part of the experience.
And that' just the point here. By taking our children out walking - sorry, exploring - we're instilling a love for the countryside and the great outdoors... and that will be difficult if they can't stop and look at whatever they want along the way...
6. Make up games as you go
To keep things lively and fun, make up stories, play follow the leader or hide and seek. Use "log books" for children to fill in, listing things that they have spotted or collected.
Treasure maps are fun if they are easy and the "treasure" can be a healthy treat.
7. Keep safe at all times
A First Aid kit is always a good idea to have in your backpack as just an adult walker, but when taking kids out walking it's even more important.
So, age appropriate sachets of Calpol (or similar), tubes of Savlon (or similar) and plasters with their favourite characters on them are essential equipment which will get you through most situations.
If you're away from your local patch, an awareness of where the nearest emergency doctors or minor injury unit is could once prove worthwhile.
And when there's hills, valleys, dales and mountains involved, filling in a detailed plan of the route you are intending on taking - and leaving it with someone who isn't going with you - is a very good idea. The Walks Around Britain Walking Safety Card can be downloaded, printed off and filled in for just such a purpose.
Finally on the safety point, have a fully-charged mobile phone on any walk with children through challenging terrain - and perhaps consider investing in a power bank to make sure you've always got a charged phone just in case.
Walking with very young children may require a pram or buggy. To ensure an enjoyable walk, it's helpful to find out in advance whether the route you are taking will be accessible.
On the Walks Around Britain website, the number of stiles and the grading of the route will help you decide whether the walk is suitable for buggies.
Alternatively, use a baby carrier, such as the ones from Deuter. These baby carriers are great and comfortable for both the child and the adult, and have an amazing amount of storage too for all those baby-related essentials.
Walks With Buggies has lots of routes that have been rated as suitable for parents with buggies and young children. You can search the database for walks across the UK that are accessible by buggy. The database holds over 300 walks and is updated every day.
Our good friends at walking-books.com have produced several packs in their Making Tracks range - designed especially for children.