Top tips for dragging the kids out on a walk (and making them have a good time!)
5 ways to make walking outdoors fun for kids
No matter what their age from 1 – 21 (and above!), sometimes it can be really hard to encourage the kids away from screens and outdoors for a walk. They’ll moan, they’ll refuse, they’ll say it’s too hot, too cold, it’s BORING!!
So how can we encourage the children out the door and, dare I say it, enjoying themselves!? How can we make a walk fun!?
Over the years, we’ve found a few tricks that seem to work (most of the time). With yet another lockdown school holiday approaching, we thought we’d share a few pointers. Sadly there’s no silver bullet, but every little helps!
1. TAKE A BACKPACK
‘A backpack!?’ You might say dismissively….. Yes! Definitely. I take my backpack EVERYWHERE we go – even on short walks! And it’s very much like a Mary Poppins bag.
There’s nothing worse than leaving the house without water and within 2 minutes hearing ‘mum, I’m thirsty…’
- Extra layers
For winter and summer. If they’re cold they’ll moan! The more layers packed the better prepared you are.
- Space for de-layered items
What is wrong with children’s temperature control!? Clothes go off and on at an extraordinary rate.
If they take off their coats or jumpers, and have to carry them, they’ll moan. But I don’t want to carry them over my arms or round my waste, so the backpack is great for shoving in the jumpers and coats that are swiftly stripped off within 5 minutes of leaving the house.
- Spare gloves
When it’s really cold and they’re playing in snow and ice, their gloves will definitely get wet and then they’ll moan.
- Snacks and drinks
(more on this later)
In summer we take swimmers and a towel everywhere because you never know when you might stumble across the perfect wild swimming spot.
- A map
Because we get lost a lot and my phone rarely has any battery.
- A packed lunch
Make it a picnic walk
2. MAKE WALKING LESS BORING
We were always out on walks as kids and even though we loved being outdoors, walks could get a little dull and repetitive. Stuck in lockdown, it’s hard to tackle this given we’re all limited in where we can go and are often heading out on the same walks that we have done for the last year.
Over the past 12 months we’ve tried to make our walks more interactive and interesting and to get the kids more involved whenever we can.
A few ideas are;
Ask the children to plan a route on a map before leaving, and then ask them to map read. It’s great fun to navigate the footpaths on a map from your house and even see where new routes you haven’t discovered are. You can get a personalised map from the Ordnance Survey.
For smaller children, you can point out potentially interesting things on a map like springs, a stream, a water tower, or a tumulus ( a little mound over a grave or graves). Then head out and have a major celebration when you find them!
- Distraction is great
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard myself, slightly irritated, saying ‘come on, come on, hurry up’ to the children whilst they look in yet another puddle.
That said, those puddles and little things they’re investigating are what makes a walk fun for them! I’ve taught myself to stop, look and talk about the interesting things we may see along the way, things I otherwise would have just walked straight past without noticing.
- Nature’s a giant playground
Now, we’re forever investigating animals tracks, prints, poos, badger setts etc etc or looking for imminent changes in the seasons – like signs of Spring during winter (catkins on Hazel trees, snowdrops, daffodils, and crocuses) And it’s really engaging for me and the kids! From one walk to the next, we can see how things are changing around us which makes being out so much more interesting.
Some useful tools:
*The Woodland Trust do a fantastic series of Swatch books that we used religiously on our walks last lockdown – Spring flowers to look out for, animals tracks, fungi and birds.
*We also downloaded the RSPB bird song app so that we can stop and listen to the birds we hear along the way and work out what they are… winter is a great time to spot them too as there are no leaves on the trees.
- Be flexible
You may have a walking route in mind but if adventuring up a stream, or following some animal tracks becomes way more interesting than sticking to your route then go for it – you never know what you might find!
Some days you may be able to walk really far with the kids, and others they’re just not having it so keeping expectations low can help prevent stress! If you loved long distance walks before the kids came along, then try to carve out some time to walk alone or with friends. That way you’ll be less desperate to cover some distance with the kids (this is very true for me!)
3. SNACKS & DRINKS
Now I’m not trying to encourage the eating of rubbish food but sometimes a treat is pretty good – especially when hard earned. For us, snacks on a walk are essential. My niece once said, when looking at a selection of snacks she disapproved of, ‘if there aren’t any good snacks then WHAT’S THE POINT!?!?’ She was right… we got better snacks.
Obviously, we don’t want our children eating sweets and treats all the time, and it’s all a balance with fruit and the good stuff, but a bit of snack bribery on a walk really works some magic.
We tend to have a little box of sweets in the trusty backpack that we call ‘energy boosters’ … when the kids have walked a long way, or if they have a hill ahead of them that they start to complain about.. we give them a little energy booster and suddenly their fuelled up and ready to go!
The same with drinks. On a long, cold walk a thermos of hot chocolate, hot juice or hot squash serves both to warm the kids up and also acts as an exciting treat.
Snacks for grown ups are important too. I’m less tempted by a banana and a sip of water on a walk than I am by a chocolate hob nob and a thermos of coffee…..
4. MAKE IT A MINI-ADVENTURE
We once had a friend of the children over to play, and when I suggested going out for walk he said, ‘A walk!? Why would we do that…? That’s no fun!’
‘Fair enough’, I thought. The idea of just going walking isn’t too appealing to children. But when I replied that actually it wasn’t just a walk but a mission to set up a top-secret ambush, his reaction changed. ‘Cool’ he said.
Like a good rebranding act, we can jazz-up the idea of a walk and make it more appealing to the kids. For example, going out for;
- a snail racing championship…
- a baddy-catching ambush…
- building a den…
- cooking in the wild….
- playing 40/40…
- making an obstacle course…
- playing football…
- building a raft..
are all infinitely more interesting than just putting one foot in front of the other.
Check out our ideas for local, easy mini adventures to entice the kids outdoors.
5. MAKE A HABIT OF IT
Growing up with dogs, our kids are used to the dog walk being a daily occurrence. But for most, having a dog is definitely not the answer. Instead, if you find a way to weave a walk, or adventure, it into your daily or weekend habits then the children will get more used to the outdoor routine, and less displeased when it’s suggested.
There’s no need to walk for miles everyday, or climb mountains, or set high expectations. Sometimes, just spending a little time outdoors can lift everyone’s mood and open up the opportunity to talk and laugh away from screens and other distractions.