Walking is a great activity to do as a family no matter what age your children are but there is something particularly special about introducing a new generation to the joys of walking in the great outdoors as soon as their legs will carry them.
For many parents memories of walking as young children themselves are a strong incentive to go walking as a family, while for those new to walking children can be a catalyst to get out into the fresh air for the whole family’s benefit.
Walking to nursery or school when possible is an ideal way to establish walking as part of family life and many schools and local authorities have walking schemes such as designated routes and walking buses to make walking fun and safe for children.
If you have toddlers who can’t yet go far on foot, taking a pushchair or suitable child carrier on a family stroll means they can walk at least some of the way before having a rest. All-terrain pushchairs with three wheels are widely available for off-road walking.
Once you’ve introduced children to walking the hard part can be keeping them interested. Exercising the family dog is a simple way to add something different to a walk but there are plenty of other easy – and free – ways to make a walk special.
Games of I-spy, collecting objects, treasure hunts or even fancy dress can help liven up walks for disinterested children. You could also consider incorporating local attractions or adding a picnic to your walk so they have something extra to look forward to.
And sometimes children just like to be involved. You could introduce them to map reading, help them pack their own rucksack, take a camera for them to use or let them bring a friend – all things we take for granted as adults but which can make a big difference to children.
To avoid your little ones over-tiring, go at their pace and keep walks shorter or plan ways to make a short cut during the route if necessary. It’s better to leave them eager for the next walk than bad-tempered and reluctant for another outing.
Make sure they are wearing the right clothing and footwear so they don’t get cold, wet or overheat. In summer hats and sun cream – as well as something for bites and stings – are good ideas while in winter have some extra layers to hand.
Build in toilet and refreshment stops – or take some snacks and drinks with you – and plan ahead for getting to the walk itself. Choose walks with convenient parking or transport links near to your starting point to keep their energies and attention on the walk itself.
Walking is a safe activity for families with young children but it’s important to follow the Countryside Code (in England and Wales) and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code in countryside areas and green spaces and the Highway Code when using roads.