As with most subjects covered on my blog, I do not profess to be an expert in getting kids into walking; but I’m living this experience right now, and learning a few things along the way that I think are worth sharing.
First, a little background. My little people are 5 1/2 and 3 1/2. Adam and I are keen walkers, always have been. We are blessed to live in the Peak District, smack bang in the middle of seriously amazing walking territory. It’s like torture sometimes, as we’d love to whip up the hills on a whim. But with kids you can’t really do that. It’s the one thing we missed since having them, to be honest.
Listen, to all other lovers of walking who might be expecting a child or have a little baby, it’s not all bad news. Babies are excellent company on walks, if you are willing to wear a carrier, of course. That stage is the easy bit. FYI, we owned a really posh baby carrier that we did use a few times but then sold as we both found that it was really hard work walking with a heavy kid strapped in. Still, many people don’t experience that, so it’s definitely worth a look.
Yeah, so walking with babies is easy enough. It’s the next stage, walking with toddler, preschool and Reception-aged kids that is challenging. Everyone has sat next to a smug parent in a pub who declares the love their 3 year old has for climbing mountains, but for many of us, it’s quite a challenge to get them peeled away from their iPads for 5 minutes and even getting them out the door!
Yes, that’s right, our children aren’t naturally mad-for-the-outdoor types. But once they get out, they have a ball (mostly). Thus, I feel like I am qualified enough to blog on this subject. Here are 10 things I have learned about walking with this age of child (3-5 or thereabouts).
1. Pick the right walk
The most important one. If you’re kids aren’t naturally chomping at the bit to get outdoors, then you have to grab their attention and blow them away with your choice of walks, right from the start. There has to be something to get them excited on the walk. A shallow river to splash in, a vertiginous mountain edge, a scary cave to explore, some creepy woodland to dream up stories about. Almost all walks have an interesting feature about them; write a list of the ones you know in your area and start with the very coolest ones.
2. Give them a task
My son, on the walk pictured, took his little point and shoot camera with him (above). It’s just an old one my mum gave to him, but he loves it. He’s really into taking pictures, and then looking at them on a big screen when we get home. It keeps him focussed. When the whinging starts (and it will), get them back on track by suggesting they take a picture (or whatever). You might take a treasure map, or a list of nature things to spot.
3. Take exciting snacks
We took chocolate, marshmallows, malt loaf – oh, and apples. But it was all about the sweet stuff really. We stopped for hot chocolate and enjoyed our sugary treats. This gave him a little boost when he needed it.
4. Pick the right length walk
I would say, by judging my own kids’ capabilities, that for a 3 year old, 1-2 miles is more than enough. Any more and be prepared to carry them (you should be prepared to carry a 3 year old at all times, to be fair!). For a 4 year old, 2-3 miles could be achieved. And a 5 year old can walk up to 5 miles if in the right frame of mind. This walk, pictured, was 5 miles. To be honest that was a little too far on this occasion as it was so cold. But he did it! You do risk putting them off though if you push them too far on early outings.
5. Get them in the right gear
Wellies are essential, at all times of year I’d say. I know, I know, he has snow boots on here, as he’d left his wellies at school, but generally I think wellies with 2 pairs of socks to keep toes from freezing is better as they are waterproof. Yes, once they get into doing longer walks you can invest in walking boots but kids feet grow so quickly I’d only do that once they were walking very regularly. For such short distances, wellies are fine. In most months, a waterproof trousers and a coat will be required, with layers underneath for winter, and a hat, plus gloves. In summer, obviously, plenty of sunscreen.
6. Take other kids if possible
Some of my son’s friends are very enthusiastic to walk a long way. Taking their mates (or cousins) seems to make a huge difference. They don’t want to look like a whinging wimp in front of them. Plus, it keeps them occupied.
7. Buy some walks for kids books
I own a few books specifically about walking with young kids. They have a wide range of short walks, up to 5 miles. And the authors understand that young kids need to have a focal point and features of interest. So that means I don’t have to think too much about it.
8. Give them a little rucksack to carry
Obviously, don’t pack it full of stuff so that they are toppling over, but just a few items that might keep them interested. A compass, some water, their camera, some chocolate. He was going to bring one on this walk but then we decided to leave it as I had mine. Still, it’s worth a shot if they like to hold their own things, like my daughter does (whereas he’s not that bothered).
9. Let them go at their own pace
I do struggle with this. And I have to say, that on this walk, I did spend a lot of time saying “Artie, COME ON!!” He wanted to poke at ice, see above, and I was trying to catch up with my Dad, who only has one pace (his!). Seriously though, if you can walk a little more mindfully, do so. You will both enjoy it more.
10. It’s not a walk; it’s an adventure!
You need to be totally pumped about going, and be bigging it up right from the start. Do say: “OMG!! I CANNOT wait to go on our mountain adventure tomorrow!! What awesome snacks shall we take??!” Don’t say: “Get your coat on, we are going for a walk”
I hope these tips are helpful. What do you do? Do your kids walk? How do you keep them interested?