When Little One 1.0 was born, I spent many days, rain or shine, out walking in the park with a buggy and a mummy friend. Looking back on it now – having added two more children to my gang – I miss those long walks with my sleeping baby luggage. Beyond the age of 8 months, the walks got shorter and then stopped altogether due to toddler limitations and 2nd pregnancy fatigue.
Now that my eldest has turned 4 and my middle child has turned 2 I have begun “training” them to go out walking. We have great fun exploring the local countryside as a family, and there are so many benefits to us all!
1. It helps to keep us in shape – especially my husband who has a sedentary job and zero willpower in the face of sausage sandwiches and cakes.
2. It gives the children much-needed fresh air and (safe) sun exposure.
3. Walking is a great way to unwind, forget the never-ending To Do List and spend quality time together as a family.
4. The children learn from seeing the natural world and how it changes throughout the year.
That said, Little Ones the world over have been known to moan at the mere suggestion of a walk so how can you get them out to enjoy all the fantastic positives? Here are five simple ways to – I hate to use the word – “trick” your children in hiking!
1. Visit an Organised Activity Trail
The National Trust and English Heritage sites (as well as countless other tourist attractions) are very good at organising themed trails during school holidays, or around events such as Easter and Halloween. These trails are a brilliant way to distract your Little Ones and make them forget they are walking. We usually manage a couple of hours’ walking during these events before the tiredness sets in, which means everyone is shattered and sleeps well that night!
2. Create a Scavenger Hunt
If you prefer your hikes to come for free, (because that is one of the best things about going for a walk after all) why not put together a DIY scavenger hunt before you set off. Some simple drawing is required for Really Little Ones, but children are pretty good at identifying poorly drawn pictures, so don’t panic if you’re not an artist! I certainly am not! I like to make seasonal nature hunts but you can tailor the hunt to your location or your children’s interests. We love to build up enthusiasm by summoning the Little Ones for an “Expedition” which mean backpacks filled with a magnifying glass, a snack and a drink. They love to feel like Explorers ready for an adventure and nature-spotting is a great distraction!
3. Turn your Walk into a Story
Little children love the world of make-believe and adding a story into a hike, can turn a boring walk into the setting for a magical tale. Small prompts and ideas are usually enough to generate excitement and fuel their imaginations – for example; we live near a piece of public art which sits on top of a hill with a fabulous view. The site vaguely resembles a castle, and in the middle is a giant, concrete ball embedded into the ground. Halfway to the castle is an over-sized bike which was installed to celebrate the Tour de France passing through. Our Little Ones love to pretend it is a giant’s bike, parked outside his castle and that the concrete ball is an egg that belongs to his pet dragon. They race to the top of the hill and charge around the castle acting out their story while mummy and daddy enjoy the view.
4. Bring a Friend
This makes perfect sense when you consider that most grown-ups prefer to walk with company. Playdates are great for parents to have a bit of company and a break but why not use a playdate to go out for a walk. Grown-ups can still natter while the Little Ones keep each other company and play games along the way!
My pre-children self would cringe at the idea of bribing my future Little Ones to bend them to my will, but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do! Some form of snack treat is always a winner, plus they will have earned the sugar with all that lovely exercise. We often try to pick a route that ends near a café, so there is always the reward to dangle when the moaning kicks in. It never ceases to amaze me, the power that cake has over Little Ones!
I know from my childhood that creating an interest in the outdoors from a young age will help to cultivate a lifelong love for which your Little Ones will be eternally grateful. It’s not always the easiest option to get children hiking, but the rewards will be so great that it is definitely worth the effort!