A parallax image

Enthusing Kids to Get Outside

Posted by Shane Swannick.
First Published Jan 2014; updated May 2023.

Sometimes kids need motivation to go outside. Here's some useful tips on enthusing kids to get outside and enjoy it.

***Kids sometimes need a bit of encouragement to get them outside, and then need some motivation when they are there. This post from Shane, an experienced leader in the outdoors, is packed full of tips. ***

Enthusing Kids to go Outside

Getting kids out and about in the countryside and getting kids to “enjoy” being out and about in the countryside are two entirely different things!

I’ve been fortunate to spend much of my working life in the hills, mountains and countryside of the UK and further afield. I’ve never specifically worked in the outdoor industry, but somehow, my job has always had an element of the outdoors.

A little bit about me

I was born and raised in the Shropshire countryside, in the shadow of Eastridge. I had always enjoyed the local myths and legends, the beautiful hills, and the rich history and heritage that was so visible throughout the area.

found myself living in a gothic folly, Wray Castle, on the shores of Windermere

At 16, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, but one thing I did know, was that I didn’t want to go to 6th Form, and end up working in an office somewhere. I ended up answering an advert for a training establishment in the Lake District (wherever that was!), and after a few visits, found myself living in a gothic folly, Wray Castle, on the shores of Windermere. I had signed up to a 3-year course in Marine Electronics and Telecommunications. Much of our time was spent studying electronics, communications and maths etc.. but, a large part of our timetable was spent outside, taking part in outdoor pursuits. I was introduced to climbing, mountaineering, sailing, canoeing and water ski-ing. It was this part of my time in the Lakes that I really fell in love with. I fell, hook line and sinker for the hills and mountains, the lakes, the villages, the way of life, and the people.  I found the way of life to be very similar to the way it was in Shropshire, which meant it was easy to adapt to a Cumbrian life.

I ended up spending nearly 4 years in Wray Castle, spending much of my final year working as a groundskeeper and helping run the outdoor education element.

I left the Lakes to join the Army, where I spent 15 years working in Telecommunications. During that time, I made the most of what the Army could offer, and went on many training courses to help my mountaineering progress. Eventually I earned my Mountain Leader (Military) qualification, and as a result, spent a large part of my time introducing Soldiers of all ages to the outdoors and mountaineering, in a variety of locations across Europe.

When I left the Army, I returned, with my family, to the same village I grew up in, and having visited many beautiful mountainous locations across the Country, I had an even better appreciation of what was on my doorstep.

Fortunately, my new job also contained an element of outdoor education, as I run and assess Duke of Edinburgh groups throughout the year, as well as take sixty 12 year olds for a week at a time to visit the outdoor education centre at Arthog.

Strategies for getting kids outdoors

So….returning to my very first point, there is a big difference between getting kids to go outdoors with you (yours, or other peoples!), and actually getting them to enjoy the process. Be it my own kids, or students at work, I have experience of trying to persuade a large range of ages, from 4 to 40!.

Despite the differences in age, a lot of the “strategies” are the same, and just require some fine tuning, depending on the age of the individual.

negative grunts of disapproval from the intended walkee!

Unless they are actually a lover of the outdoors, most teenagers/young adults will not see just “Going for a walk” as a good enough reason to actually have any enjoyment. In fact, that particular line is likely to cause alarming and negative grunts of disapproval from the intended walkee!.

Much better, especially with younger children, is to go “exploring” or have an “adventure”, anything other than “walking”. Walking is what old people do when their kids have left – apparently. Now, if you tell a teenager you’re going to go exploring, you’re likely to be met with the same negative grunts, and may even hear such big words as “condescending”. Better with them is to try and arm yourself with some interesting facts about an intended location beforehand, and try and plant a few seeds. On Stiperstones you can mention abandoned villages, WW2 plane crashes, myth and legend, nature, geology, scrambling, geocaching and many other things.

I set them a competition to see which group can photograph the most kinds of wildlife

When I take teenage groups out, I set them a competition to see which group can photograph the most kinds of wildlife, or who can tell me the most obscure fact about Blakemoorgate. It’s amazing how keen they can become to open their eyes, and actually look around.

Hiking with Kids

Geocaching is a relatively easy way to liven up a seemingly dull walk

 Geocaching is a relatively easy way to liven up a seemingly dull walk for kids of all ages. Given that most of them are more tech savvy than the majority of us adults, let them figure out what’s nearby, and what they can find. As long as you have a map and compass with you, let them lead you around by their smartphone, looking under rocks and brambles, and eventually getting excited when they swap a hair clip for a key ring!

Teenagers need to feel that they are in control

Teenagers need to feel that they are in control, so let them plan where they want to go, and what they would like to explore. Come up with an area you would like to explore as a family, but let them decide the route (safely of course). My own kids (6 and 9) will be enthusiastic about a walk one week, and act like Christmas is cancelled the next. But  if I say, do you want to go scrambling, or play in the stream at the Bridges, they’ll happily walk 3-5 miles to do so!

Recently it’s been nice to combine my own kids’ education and some time outside, together as a family. Our local school studies the history, myths and local lore surrounding where we live, which includes tales of the Devil’s Chair and Mitchells Fold. Thinking I was going to be get a luke warm reception, I asked the kids if they wanted to go on a night time visit to Mitchells Fold, and to see the stone witch. Surprisingly, they were very excited about it, and we packed our torches and cameras to spend a couple of hours on Stapeley in the dark.

we packed our torches and cameras to spend a couple of hours on Stapeley in the dark

The kids played with their torches and helped me take some wonderful photographs of the stone circle. They weren’t phased at all by the driving wind and icy rain that was starting to dampen the adult spirits! After a good hour on the dark and wild Common, we headed back down to the village for a bag of chips and went home to warm up. The kids had a great time, and it was lovely to see them interested in what makes our County so special.

Mitchells Fold at night

it just takes a bit of preparation

There are lots of techniques and strategies for trying to enthuse people of all ages to get outside, and we all develop our own methods, but as a rule, it just takes a bit of preparation about how the subject is broached.  Timing tends to be key with my own kids. If we get up on a Sunday morning and say to them “Come on kids, we’re going for a walk”, I can guarantee you I will see at least one of them sulking for the remainder of the day until we are back in the house. However, if I say to them the day before “Right, let’s all go out as a family and explore Stiperstones tomorrow” then, it allows them time to get used to the idea, and is usually greeted by a swift “OK Dad”

In my rucksack there is always a small compact camera, and something to swap in a geocache

In my rucksack there is always a small compact camera, and something to swap in a geocache, along with at least one smartphone. Both of my kids love taking photographs, and they both enjoy looking for geocaches, so we can always liven it up should their heads start to drop! Indeed, it is the combination of interests that allows us to enjoy a lot of time outside together. I love my photography, without pressure from me, my kids also enjoy it. This means that unless they want to specialise in being “Indoor only” photographers, then the most exciting subjects close to their home, require a bit of physical effort to get to!, and, sometimes, to my utter surprise, I actually get asked to take them up the hills, across the brook, or outside in the dark to see the moon!.

they will hopefully carry with them into adulthood

It’s a very fine line between trying to get your kids interested in being outdoors (enjoying what seems such an obvious activity to us adults) and forcing them to be in an environment they don’t want to be in, and making them hate it for the rest of their lives. But approached sensibly with patience, it results in kids who have a fondness and understanding that they will hopefully carry with them into adulthood, and maybe one day, try to pass on to their own kids.