Ecojam's Eleanor Williamson shares her top 8 tips on making walking fun for kids...
My kids, like most kids, bounce out of bed in the (very early) morning and they don't stop until they are dunked in the bath at the end of the day. However, going for a walk just isn't something they feel willing to use their energy on! We've dragged them down tracks, carried them up hills and bribed our way round parks. But my fear of putting them off the great outdoors for life has led me to think a bit more creatively about walking. So, after months of experimenting, here are my tips.
1) Theme the walk
Announce to the kids that you are “going for a walk” and the mood in the house may take a nose-dive. Announce that they have been “invited to go on a bear hunt” and you may just get a more positive response.
Going on a bear hunt can be as simple or as complicated as you like. I have managed to get my kids to do some fairly decent walks whilst holding bears and involving them in activities along the way. They can climb trees, sit on benches, hop, skip, jump etc all whilst enjoying a whine-free walk. If you want to be more adventurous you could go out beforehand and set up some things for them to find along the way. Telling a story whilst walking is a great way to cover some ground without the kids even realising they are walking.
2) Team up with others
This is a simple idea but it really works. Before planning a walk put a call out to friends or family and ask them to join you. Holding hands with Grandma, running around with their mates and getting a ride on someone's shoulders all add to the fun for kids.
3) Scavenger hunt
Kids are naturally curious and keen to explore. Use this to encourage them to get out and about. Choose a route and think about what you are likely to encounter along the way. Leaves from a tree, sticks and pine cones are all easy things for kids to identify and collect. The Woodland Trust has loads of free resources for your budding Nature Detectives.
4) Spotting the signs of the season
If a scavenger hunt seems like hard work why not simplify it and go 'Autumn spotting'. Stroll round your local park and ask the kids to spot signs of Autumn like leaves on the ground or conkers. Remember to incorporate smells and sounds too.
5) Take a picnic
The anticipation of food can be enough to get my 5 year old to walk miles! To her the idea of walking to a picnic spot is a big motivator. It is perhaps wise not to walk too far though as the walk back after the picnic can be more tricky!
6) Mini-beast spotting
If your children are fascinated by insects why not use a walk as an opportunity to go exploring. Take a camera or a magnifying glass and a pen and notebook and set off on a mini-beast adventure.
7) Take playdough
Bear with me on this one – I know it sounds a bit odd – but playdough can be an excellent tool for learning about nature. Let them use the playdough however they want. Spark their creativity by making some suggestions. Perhaps they could see how it looks to make an imprint of a tree trunk or they could find some leaves and flowers and see what they look like. They could also find some things and try to model them with the playdough.
This one makes for a very slow walk but it is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and nurture your child's interest in nature. Playdough is easy to make so you don't need to go out and buy it. Check out this recipe for homemade playdough.
8) Be realistic
One final thing to say is that it helps to add a healthy dose of reality to the situation. If you want to go for a hike it may be best to find a babysitter! Whilst walking can be a fun, free thing to do with kids they are not likely to enjoy a route march.
If you have not done much walking with your kids start small. Walk round the block or stroll round the park. If your kids are really young, take a pushchair or baby-carrier as back up. Stay close to home and see how things go.