The key to successfully getting kids onboard with a planned walk starts with your sales patter. But once you’re out the door, follow these tried and tested hacks to make family walks a roaring success.
By Andrew White
Today, our young people have many more ways of spending their time, and many of these involve staying indoors. Studies time and again show children generally today spend less and less time outdoors – and this is having an increasing effect on their mental and physical health. So how can we address that and get more children outside and walking? Here are some tried-and-tested shortcuts to making walks not only bearable, but enjoyable for all.
Work on your sales patter
Firstly, the term ‘walking’ can sound a little dull. After all, they do it every day, and so going out somewhere to do more of it might not sound very appealing, so a rebrand worthy of the best advertising agencies is required here. Instead of saying ‘Let’s go out for a walk,’ how about saying ‘Who wants to go on an adventure?’ Or ‘Let’s go and see what we can find in the woods.’ This kind of phrasing has so much more appeal for kids.
Consider the walk type
Next, think about the type of walk you are suggesting. It’s a little understood fact that most kids like the kinds of walks many adult walkers would shun. To start with, stay close to home and try to develop a love of walking in your local area. Lockdown gave us all much more of an appreciation of what is available in our local patches, and that knowledge can be put to good use here. Is there a wood nearby? A canal? A disused railway line? Is there a way to link two places in the local area they know by a walking route? Seeing places that they
know from the prism of walking rather than in the car is a useful way to get them to appreciate the outdoors and have more of a sense of where they live.
Include plenty of distractions
Children like to go to places where there is a lot to look at, but for most, the view from a summit isn’t enough of a reward in itself. They are much more focused on what they can see and do along the way. They also love to explore off the beaten track. So try to plot or use routes that have as much interest as possible, and have sections where they are allowed to veer off from the main path. Woods and forests are fantastic for this – plenty to see and the ability to leave adults behind and enjoy the freedom to explore the overgrowth.
Unleash their inner mountaineer
You don’t need to just stick to routes on the flat. Kids love to climb – it is part of their nature to discover – so you can use this desire to start to introduce summits into their walking diet. However, hold off planning that multi-summit hike to various Wainwrights and look to where there are ‘mini mountains’ – the more modest highest points in a locality. If they are climbing up the only high point in an area, then the feeling at the top is as rewarding as a much higher peak, with the landscape opening out around them. A quick check of an Ordnance Survey map will show you the highest point in the area – again something possible in urban locations as well as the countryside.
Be beside the seaside
Another guaranteed favourite with children is coastal walks. With the sounds of the sea and nature never too far away, coastal walking is perfect. Today, of course, we’ve got more access to the coast than ever before. Wales has had its Coast Path for several years now, and much of England’s new epic one is open or will be soon. The right to roam in Scotland allows for walking along the coast, and there are many dedicated coastal walking trails here, too. You can choose a route with as many or as few rises and falls as is suitable for your little ones’ legs, and there’s always the possibility of walking along the beach if the tide is out, having a paddle and discovering rock pools. What’s not to love?
Make a movie connection
For some walks with a difference, how about ones which go through famous locations? With a bit of research, you could come up with walks that are locations for films and TV programmes they know. For example, if they are a fan of the Harry Potter series, then a walk to see the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Highlands of Scotland, or Goathland station on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway could be a magical experience.
Remember to keep the pace steady. There’s no rush in the children’s eyes, and nothing will be worse for them than a parent saying ‘Come on’ every five minutes. If they want to dawdle, dawdle with them. Enjoy the slower pace and you’ll probably discover things you’ve not seen as well – it’s all part of the experience. And maybe get them to invite a friend along. They are much less likely to squabble or fall out with you when they have a friend with them, and they have someone their own age to bounce thoughts off and explore.
Activities to try along the way
There are many activities which turn even the most routine walk into an amazing adventure. How about setting a ‘tick-list challenge’, where your little ones have to search for items on a list throughout the walk? How many oak trees will they be able to tick off? And how many squirrels?
If you are heading into the woods, how about a spot of stick whittling? Find some branches on the ground – silver birch, sycamore, alder and willow are perfect – and use a good quality vegetable peeler as a safe way for children to carve the soft wood. Or for older kids, Victorinox makes a children’s pocket knife with a rounded blade. What could they – and you – sculpt while on a walk?
Most young people love to take photographs, so you can capitalise on this to get them outside. If they are of an age where they have their own smartphone, then you could let them bring that out, but it’s much safer to use an old mobile phone with a camera that still works. This way, they aren’t taking their expensive recent model outdoors and potentially losing or damaging it. Most phones don’t need a SIM card for the camera to work, you just need to charge it up, hand it over and get outside!
And if you are really struggling to get them outside without their phone, then why not try to incorporate tech into your outdoor pursuits by going geocaching. This is a real-world treasure hunt, where people taking part use either the Geocaching app or a separate GPS unit to find cleverly hidden containers – called geocaches. These have been left by fellow geocachers, and come in all different shapes and sizes – with some easier to find than others. And it’s not just in rural areas where the geocaches are hidden… you’ll find plenty in urban areas, too. To start to get into geocaching, have a good look at and register with the international geocaching website (geocaching.com). It’s free, and you can get going straight away. You’ll need to find out the coordinates and clues for the caches near to where you are, and the quickest way is to enter a postcode, choose which ones you want to ‘bag’ and then download them in a GPS receiver – or type them in manually.
Then, grab an up-to-date Ordnance Survey map of the area, and head off! The GPS coordinates will guide you towards a general location, but then you get your children to hunt around for the cache. Once you’ve found it, most caches have a logbook for you to leave a message in, but often you will also find a variety of items that people have left to swap. If you remove something from a cache, you should leave something else in its place, so come prepared.
The non-tech version of geocaching is the Kindness Rocks Project, where children leave painted rocks on walks for others to find – and this has become very popular. A search on Facebook will bring up local groups where people mention general areas that they’ve left some painted rocks, and then it’s up to you and your kids to go and hunt for them. When (or if) you find them, you usually post a picture onto that group and then let your kids re-hide the rocks. It really helps to foster a sense of community and teamwork.
Kids’ walking kit
Another great way to encourage young ones to get outside is to give them some walking kit. Having smaller versions of the gear you have can make all the difference – it makes them feel more grown up and a part of the experience. After all, if you wouldn’t go out walking without wearing your proper walking clothes, then apply the same logic to your kids. Kitting them out doesn’t have to be expensive – stores like GO Outdoors and Mountain Warehouse have a great budget range of walking clothing for kids, be that walking trousers, T-shirts or fleeces. And taking them to the store to choose their kit is a great way of letting them have ownership of the experience.
Read this issue's Gear reviews on Kit for Kids.