Raising Happy Walkers
May is National Walking Month and it’s got me thinking about how we’ve managed to make going for a family walk not only normal, but also enjoyable for our two boys. I’m no expert by any means, but I thought I’d jot down some thoughts on raising happy walkers based on our experiences. I’d love to hear your ideas too!
I’d say it all started with our, possibly foolish, decision to get a puppy two weeks before our eldest child was due! Yes, you’re not the only one to be thinking, ‘what were they thinking?’. Believe me, there were times when I thought that too! Suffice it to say we had a few back up plans in place, but happily we never had to use them.
Having a puppy and a new born definitely meant that some days went by in a bit of a blur, but what it did do, which was incredibly life-affirming for me, was ensure that I got out of the house, with the little tot, EVERY SINGLE DAY. He was born in October, so we were soon into winter. Because of the dog I couldn’t use bad weather as an excuse to hibernate. We simply stocked up on suitable gear and got out anyway. That little tot is now 7 years old, and he and his younger brother are still togged up in all the gear – perhaps not every day now they’re at school – and brought out on walks. It’s the norm for them, and as a family it’s something we’ve come to enjoy immensely. So, reduced to a simple list of top tips, here’s how I’ve raised happy walkers.
CARRY ON – babies and younger toddlers are brilliantly portable. There are so many good lightweight, off-road buggies on the market now. If you can lift them over stiles (yes, there was a day we lifted a double buggy complete with sleeping children over a stile) so much the better. If you’re carrying your little one a good, supportive sling is great for younger babies, and as they’re older the backpacks available just keep on getting better and better. If you’re a bit of an equipment geek like me you’ll love all the special features!
LAYER UP – a cold child is an unhappy child. They may fuss about wearing gloves and hats, but carry them on you so that you can pop them on if they change their mind. Try getting them to wear waterproof gloves in the winter (we use ski gloves) – so much better for carrying cold, wet sticks with. Our kids can’t resist a stream and inevitably breach the very good waterproofs we’ve put them in. We’ve learnt to keep spare clothes in the car to change them into after their woodland and down land epics.
ARE WE NEARLY THERE YET? – don’t over-estimate the distance they’ll be able to cover. Toddlers love to be independent, but their little legs can only carry them so far. You may spend the whole walk transferring the toddler from buggy or backpack to ground and back again, but each little stretch they walk and explore on their own builds up their love of it, and before long they could be walking longer and longer stretches.
WHEELS – once they’re old enough think about getting them on a scooter or balance bike and choose walks with suitable surfaces. As the kids got faster and faster on their wheels my husband and I finally found that a family walk meant that we got some proper exercise too! It was a relief to have a change from walking at toddler speed all the time!
HUNT – to encourage little legs to travel further instigate a hunt. It could be as simple as hide and seek, or you could set up a full on scavenger hunt. One sunny holiday day I took coloured pencils out with us and challenged each boy to find something in the woods of that colour. As you can imagine green and brown was pretty easy, but they had to get creative with yellow, red and blue. There are lots of books on the market designed to encourage kids to enjoy this type of thing.
SNEAKY TREATS – even though they’re much older now and a circuit of Inkpen Common can be achieved in 20mins (instead of the 2 hours it took when they were toddlers), our boys still hope for a treat at ‘the bench’. This bench is the site of many, many photographs of rabbles of kids in various states of disarray tucking into a little treat at the end of the walk. They would all race towards it at the end with shouts of ‘first to the bench wins’, and sit there almost patiently waiting for the grown-ups and the promised treats to arrive. Freshly picked blackberries are, of course, an absolute favourite. I’ve also found, over the years, that a secret stash of something sweet helps tired legs, eases nettle stings and small scrapes, and smooths over sibling quarrels.
FRIENDS – walking with friends can make all the difference to the enjoyment of an outing. If the kids have other kids with them they barely notice the ground pass beneath them. Likewise, with the kids occupied, the grown-ups get a chance to chat – something that’s often not possible on a traditional playdate.
DESTINATION – it’s often said that the ‘journey is the destination’, and while that definitely rings true on a great walk, sometimes the destination is very important! In our little world the destination is very often a bakery which sells great cakes and hot chocolates, or a pub for a drink and a snack, or sometimes even a proper lunch.
I’m sure there are many more ideas on how to keep kids happy on walks, short and long, that I’ve forgotten. What are your top tips?
About the Author
About Me & Mine
I am a writer, editor, wife and mum to two very lively boys aged seven and five - and not forgetting Oakley, our bouncy black lab. Most days with my boys are an adventure of sorts, but at weekends we love to get out and about in our local countryside of the spectacular North Wessex Downs AONB either on wheels or on foot.
Favourite place in the world:
The mountains! I was lucky enough to have grandparents living in Salzburg, Austria when I grew up and have always had a love for the mountains. In summer I love the walks and the views, and in winter the smell of snow and skiing.
Favourite things to do outdoors:
There is a favourite spot in the next village along from us - some woods which are full of possibilities. There are streams to splash through, mud to get stuck in, 'dinosaur' ferns to hide amongst and fallen trees to bug-hunt in. Every time we go up there as a family we have a magical time. It helps that there's a cafe and pub where we park the car so we can finish the walk with a hot chocolate!