Need to get the family out in the fresh air? Here are 8 great tips for walking with kids.
Jen and Sim Benson are award-winning outdoor adventure writers and photographers. Their books include 100 Great Walks with Kids, Short Runs in Beautiful Places, The Adventurer’s Guide to Britain, and Wild Running. Find out more at jenandsimbenson.co.uk @jenandsim.
For many of us who enjoy the great outdoors, the past year has been a lesson in the art of appreciation. Appreciation for the adventures to be found on our doorsteps, and also for those that lie further afield, currently still tantalisingly out of reach.
But, as the prospect of greater freedom grows brighter, along with the spring sunshine, it feels like we can all begin tentatively planning some family adventures for the coming months.
Like every parent, it often feels like we still have a lot to learn, and each day brings a new set of joys and challenges. But over the past decade, we’ve clocked up many miles of walking with our children – first one, then two – starting with baby carriers, progressing patiently through the crawling and toddling stages, and now here we are trying to keep up with two speedy kids of six and nine. It’s these walks and the experiences they have given us that inspired us to write our new book, 100 Great Walks With Kids, which is available now from Bloomsbury Publishing.
The book is packed with our favourite tried-and-tested family-friendly walking routes from all around Britain. We’ve included all the essential info, too – like where the nearest café is, what else there is to do nearby, and if the route is buggy- and doggy-friendly.
For now, we’re still leafing through the pages of our book, wistfully reminiscing about walks long past and dreaming about the days on the beach on the Isles of Scilly, paddling in the Lake District, or climbing a mini-mountain in Scotland that is hopefully not too far away…
1. Plan together
Planning is a big part of the fun of an adventure and a great learning experience too.
Whether you’re going on a local walk or a camping trip in the summer, children are much more likely to be enthusiastic about an outing if they feel they’ve been fully involved in planning.
Get them talking about what sort of adventures would appeal to them and use their ideas as a guide, alongside your own.
Get them talking about what sort of adventures would appeal to them
One of the challenges of adventuring as a family is the differing requirements and capabilities of children at different development stages. By getting everyone involved, you’ll be able to ensure it suits everyone as well as possible.
2. Share the experience
Sharing experiences with others can make them even more special, and a great adventure is something that you’ll probably end up talking and laughing about for years to come.
Outdoors is likely to be the place for socialising over the coming months, so when restrictions allow, how about meeting up with another family for a walk or seeing if the kids want to bring a friend with them?
3. Set a goal
Kids love to have a point to an outing. They may not be excited by the prospect of simply going for a walk, so try pitching it differently.
Bag a summit, explore a ruin, take a bike or scooter with you, go berry picking or choose a walk that ends at a playground or a café.
When they’re out and about, kids burn up a lot of energy running around, so an ice-cream on a warm day or a hot chocolate on a cold one can be a great incentive to keep going.
Mini goals along the way can be really helpful for keeping things interesting too. How about having a race to the next oak tree or seeing who can spot a squirrel first?
4. Find your way
Getting lost can be a genuine concern when you’re out in wild places, especially with children.
Learning how to use a map is an enjoyable and useful skill for everyone, but there are some great ways to get started in the art of navigation without the need for a compass.
Many child-friendly places such as parks and woodlands have way-marked trails to follow, and spotting the next arrow is a fun challenge for younger kids.
For families with older children, planning and following a route on an app such as OS Maps Online is a great introduction to digital navigation.
5. Be prepared
Kids are great at attacking activities with seemingly boundless energy until suddenly they get tired, hungry, cold - or all three, so it’s important to take enough food and water for everyone for the whole time you’ll be out.
Keep an eye out for the classic signs: going quiet, stopping frequently or complaining.
Make time to all stop for a break, a snack and to add/remove layers of clothing.
It’s amazing how rapidly a square of chocolate can turn things around! Be prepared to carry younger children: a good, well-fitting sling or carrier is a great investment.
A basic first aid kit, mobile phone, emergency rations and extra clothing are essential. Consider taking an emergency shelter if you’re heading to a remote, exposed or weather-affected area.
Working together as a team is just as important for family adventurers as it is for any other group.
Give everyone a job, for example getting the kids to carry their own snacks and water in a small rucksack if they want to, asking them to help with navigation and seeking their opinions when making decisions along the way.
Try not to worry too much if an argument breaks out – view it as just another challenge to overcome. Fraying tempers are almost always due to something easy to fix, such as hunger or tiredness, so stop, hand out some snacks and see if you can work things out.
7. Build up gradually
When you’re taking your first steps with family walks, it’s important to start small and build up gradually.
As a general rule, walks over about 6 miles (10km) should wait until kids are at least 10 years old, but every child is different.
As a general rule, walks over about 6 miles (10km) should wait until kids are at least 10 years old, but every child is different. By aiming low to start with, you’ll quickly get used to setting and achieving goals; as you increase the level of the challenge, you’ll find everyone’s much more inclined to increase their effort levels too.
One of the most important things to remember when kids are involved is to take each day as it comes. Just because everyone managed a 4-mile walk last weekend doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be up for it again this weekend. We’re definitely still learning this one!
8. Celebrate every success
Regardless of what your aim was when you started out, any adventure is a success, however small.
If you’d planned to reach the top of a hill but in practice only managed to walk to the stream at the bottom and paddle in it, celebrate that.
If you’ve promised the kids ice cream at the end of a walk, don’t refuse it just because they didn’t reach your marker of success: as long as you’ve all got out together somewhere beautiful, had fun and expended some energy, then that’s worthy of a celebration.
always aim to end the day on a high
And always aim to end the day on a high – that way, everyone will be much more enthusiastic about getting out next time.