I have always loved a good walk. Walking the same route with your dog twice a day enables an immediate appreciation of the changing seasons. A proper good hike across a moor,up some challenging hills, or all the way round a big lake gives a fantastic sense of exhilaration, adventure and achievement. Unfortunately, many of these principles are a little abstract for young children to appreciate. Young children mostly live, joyously, in the now. No promise of a sense of achievement is going to get them up that hill. So what is the best way to get them to look forward to and enjoy that walk?
First things first, be realistic. Your 3 year old who mostly travels around in a car is not going to suddenly complete a 4 mile hike. Encourage them to walk as much as possible day to day. It is not possible for everyone I know, but even if its parking a bit further away from school or nursery to give them a chance to work those muscles, give it a go!
Secondly, big it up! It’s not just a ‘walk’. It’s an ‘adventure walk’ or a ‘discovery walk’. If they sense you are excited about it they are much more likely to be excited themselves.
Thirdly, prepare! You are going to need a decent, comfortable back pack.
- Clearly, you need to know where you are going. There are lots of books in different areas specifically aimed at children. Or of course the good old internet, for instance have a look at www.walkswithbuggies.com or the very handy www.babyroutes.co.uk. Look for a walk with some interesting features, a ruined castle, a bridge, a stream a great view, a lake or pond or a good tree to climb. Ideally, there should be a destination point, somewhere you are heading for. Involve them as much as is appropriate for their age. Show them pictures or have a look at a map.
- Now for the really important bit, they are going to need something to focus on. My kids’ favourite is Nature Bingo. Or try a scavenger hunt. Or if they are a bit older and show any interest get one of the nature spotting books like the ‘Usbourne Spotters Guide to Nature’ or a bit simpler,’ I-spy Nature’ by Michelin, there are lots of others. You will need to bring a pencil. You are also going to need some patience, there will inevitably be a lot of stopping to fill in the bingo or book.
- Perhaps you think your child prefers counting and numbers to ‘Nature’. So try asking them to spot a certain number of something easy to find, blue flowers, trees with creepers on, fallen logs etc – you will soon find them tearing around.
- Make sure you take snacks and drinks. Tell them they will get their mini feast when you reach your mid point destination. You know your own child, if you know they are not going to get far without some morsel to eat make sure you take some smaller thing to keep them going on the way.
- Always take a penknife. You’ll never regret it.
- You know the rest: if it’s sunny take hats and suncream, if it’s wet take waterproofs, if it’s cold take hats and gloves. If there is some small toy your child is attached to – a car, a teddy, that random bit of plastic they were given at the last party – fine take that too.
Finally, engage them! So you are all prepared, you’ve found your way to the beginning of the walk. Now get going! If it is somewhere you haven’t been before you can encourage them to scout ahead, of course as long as you know there aren’t any roads. There isn’t much in the woods that can harm them, no bears in the UK.
Engage them straight away with the Nature Bingo or whatever you have chosen. Make sure they know what a stinging nettle is -and to avoid them. Let them explore, if they want to know what is at the top of that steep bank let them have a look. After all this is an ‘adventure walk!’
Some more tips:
- If they are flagging give them encouragement to look for the next feature ‘I think I can see a stream ahead’, ‘ Is that the end of the woods?’, ‘Which way is that signpost pointing?’.
- Look for a good walking ‘staff’ – they love it!
- Take a digital camera and allow them to take pictures, maybe you could make a little book about your walk when you get home.
- Take a small bag to collect ‘treasures’ in.
- If they are knackered take a break.
- The secret weapon – take a friend!
When you make it back give them lots of praise. Now they know what that sense of achievement feels like!