Here are some of my thoughts on how to make going walking with kids more of a pleasure and less of a pain. I’ve got two boys, aged 8 and 12 when I wrote this, and we walk regularly – whether it’s a few miles around a country park or a longer 6-8 miler around The Pennines or the Peak District. To be honest the majority of this is common-sense and a lot will apply whether you are walking alone, with your pals or with your family.
BEFORE YOU GO
# Prepare. Not surprisingly taking one of more small people on a walk creates 3x more work. It’s best to get things ready the evening before to avoid any undo stresses on the day itself. Check the weather too, to make sure you know what to expect.
# Involve. This one is a bit of a roll of the dice actually. Most of the time involving them in the decision of where to go is a good idea, but sometimes it’s not (‘cos when did an 8 and 12 year old ever agree on anything?). I’d welcome other people’s thoughts on this one. I always market the trip in as an ‘adventure’ too, rather than a walk… it’s all in the sales pitch isn’t it? If you have a map then talk them through the route and share where you are along the route.
# Kit/Equipment: Please don’t go spending a fortune on decent proper kit for them to begin with as they just might not take to it immediately – and kids grow out of clothes and footwear so quickly. If they do start enjoying it then the kit rules for adults equally apply to kids too. If there’s mud/wet involved you might want to take a spare set of shoes for the kids, or at the very least a plastic bag in the back of the car into which you can put the offending items for the journey home (that’s the boots, not the kids).
# Keep them occupied. Both my boys are well trained on fetching something with them for the couple of hours we’re in the car for. A book or tablet usually works well, but let it be their choice. The seat-back video players (that evolved into tablets) were easily one of the best investments we made when they were younger, having put it off for years. The odd drink or snack will surely help along the way too.
# Alternative transport: You could even consider a different form of transport than normal – a bus or a train maybe?
ON THE WALK
# Sticks: Find a stick early in the walk. Or use ones from a previous walk. Kids and dogs love sticks. And not having a dog, I’ve taught my kids to fetch them when I throw them. Simple things eh? They both find benefit in a walking pole too, for some of the steeper climbs.
# Snacks: We call them ‘energy boosts’, but it’s usually a fruit pastille, a haribo or its equivalent. Other brands are available. They aren’t normally allowed these at home, so it’s a bit of a treat. I asked Alex what the best thing about walking was. He said ‘chocolate’ and I swear I can’t remember ever taking chocolate on a walking trip (as it doesn’t tend to travel well!). There is the practical ‘energy’ use, but don’t ignore the ‘bribe’ or ‘incentive’ opportunity where necessary too.
# Backpacks: You are gonna need one! If I’m honest I usually end up being the carthorse and carry a big pack with everything in on longer walks – having learnt the hard way that they aren’t quite ready for their own packs just yet. For shorter walks it depends on where we are going and what the terrain is as to whether they bring their own packs.
# Let Them Explore: One of the reasons they don’t have their own packs is that they haven’t (usually) just come on the walk for the sake of coming on a walk! They don’t stick to the path, they don’t walk in a straight line and will probably cover an additional 50% of the distance an adult walks, due to the constant to’ing and fro’ing and zigging and zagging that goes on. The path of least resistance doesn’t apply to them and there’s no use fighting it.
# Views? Whatever!: Similarly kids don’t (usually) give too monkeys about views, so don’t get stressed or upset when the sprawling vista of the valley ahead doesn’t float their boat or they care nothing for the latest crazily-shaped limestone outcrop you discover. If you see something wet they won’t want to take a pic of it, they will want to throw a stone or a stick or each other into it. If you see something that rises from the ground, they will want to climb it and jump off it, swing on it, or push each other off it. All kinds of random things are likely to keep them amused – leaves, bugs, sticks, stones.. etc etc.
# Whinging: It’s gonna happen, I’m afraid. Strangely enough my two whinge on the flat bits, not the steep bits. I use all kinds of tactics when a bit of whinging kicks in: finding a stick to use as a walking stick, playing ‘fetch’ with a stick, playing I-Spy or 20 questions, letting them take a photo, distracting them with a discussion about something, letting them wear your hat/gloves/buff – or simply taking a break and having a snack/drink. My game of ‘find a conker’ (in the Spring!) and ‘Find the (non-existent) squirrel’ are my all-time favourites. They probably aren’t interested in hearing about how plate-tectonics or glaciaton has created the landscape you are in, or about the history of where you are walking… unless there’s been a big ass battle there, or something equally as gruesome.
# Hydration: If mine are anything to go by then you’ll need a lot. Remember they are likely to be running around whilst you are walking or off investigating something. Plus my two can’t bear to drink from the same bottle (Germs! Urghhh!). Who knows how they’d cope discovering they’d filled their water-bottles from a stream a pal had wee’d in upstream or where there was a dead sheep upstream – both of which I’ve unfortunately experienced.
# The Call of Nature: Your beautiful bundles of joy are going to want the toilet on the trip too – and not just no.1’s. I’m pretty sure Alex waits until we’re at the furthest and highest point away from the car before announcing, at volume, that he ‘wants a poo!’. FFS! Am I a bad person for wanting to put a nappy on an 8 year old whilst we are out and about. Just be prepared is what I’m saying. I once, being unprepared, had to stick him on my shoulders and run the 2 miles back to the car park toilets. In retrospect, I was lucky as bouncing a ‘desperate for a no.2’ child up and down on your shoulders isn’t the best for ‘keeping it in’.
# Resilience: We all have a highly-developed, built-in and DNA-encoded, ‘protect-your-kids’ radar. It shouldn’t be ignored as there’s a fair amount of danger on any given walk… for adults as well as kids. My biggest accident came, innocuously, on a patch of mud, at the end of a walk in the car park! I’m not saying ‘let them run riot’, but let them enjoy their trip out. Let them have (supervised) a bit of a climb or a paddle. And don’t, always, turn back at the first sign of bad weather… Alex told me in no uncertain terms, during a particularly horrible rainstorm on climb up Kinder Scout, that he ‘never gives up’ and ‘wasn’t turning back’. We got properly wet that day, but I was incredibly proud of his resilience.
# Ouch!: Sorry to say this, but there are bound to be tears. A first aid kit is an essential. And I’ve gotten used to ignoring the occasional ‘tut tut’ I’ve heard whilst applying a plaster to a grazed knee whilst out with the boys.
# Goal: Try to have a goal, although at the same time, know when to give up! Make hitting the top an achievement as they will have really done well. Bagging any trig point at such a young age is amazing.
# Persistence and Patience: We’ve been taking the kids out with us at the weekends since they were babies in pushchairs, so they are used to the outdoors and going somewhere on Saturday or Sunday, or both. Sometimes they need a bit of encouragement to get out in the first place, but they usually enjoy it – and similarly you’ll need some patience during the inevitable tears and tantrums of the trail too. But stick with it – walking with your kids is awesome, it’s fun, it’s character-building…. well most of the time it is.