12 ways to make walking fun for kids
Many of us are all too familiar with the moaning that accompanies every family stroll, but it’s worth persisting with family walks.
‘Walking is one of the simplest things we can do for our social, mental and physical health,’ says Frances Bain, Walking for Health manager at Paths for All, Scotland’s national walking charity.
‘Children not only get a great burst of energy, but research shows that they’re more able to concentrate in class after exercise.’
So how can we make walking less of a chore for our kids? Here are 12 great ideas.
1. Make it sound fun
Although we might despair of our children’s reluctance to get out of the house, if we’re totally honest, we can be apathetic about it, too.
Just the way we talk about walks, however, can change our children’s attitudes towards them.
Saying, ‘Who wants to go for a walk?’ is likely to lead to eye-rolling and grumbling. Instead, Walks Around Britain suggests saying, ‘Let’s go and explore the forest,’ ‘Shall we go and feed the ducks?’ or similar.
This can help to reframe an aimless family walk as an adventure that children are much more likely to get on board with.
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2. Mind your distance
Little legs struggle with long walks, often resulting in whinging, tears and backbreaking piggyback rides, so be aware of how far – and fast – your child can comfortably walk.
‘It’s recommended that children are active for at least 60 minutes a day to stay healthy and happy, and walking to and from school can contribute greatly to this,’ says Kathryn Shaw, Communications and Media Manager at Living Streets, the UK charity for everyday walking.
‘But each child is different, so it’s up to families to decide what they think is achievable.’
3. Kit them out properly
As the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather; only the wrong clothes, and getting your child properly kitted out for walks in all seasons can make a huge difference to their enjoyment.
With a decent pair of well-fitting wellies, some waterproof trousers and a warm, weather-proof coat, you’re not constrained to walking only when it’s dry and mild, but can head out in all weathers to jump in muddy puddles, paddle in streams, and fly kites in the wind; children often enjoy these walks more than those in mild and dry weather.
If you’re a family of serious walkers, kitting your child out with comfortable walking boots and a pair of walking poles can make them feel the part, too, especially if you’re tackling more challenging hikes.
4. Pick up sticks
There’s something about sticks that appeals to kids of all ages, so when you’re out walking, try to put aside your worries about your child poking their eye out and let them pick up a satisfyingly big stick.
They can use it as a makeshift walking pole, a swashbuckling sword, to poke about with in the mud, or to beat a path through long grass – a simple prop that makes walking more fun for kids from tots to teens.
5. Go at your child’s pace
When you’re trying to get somewhere in a hurry, walking at your child’s pace can be frustrating. But if you’ve got time to be leisurely, let them go as slowly as they want – young children can find beauty in every stone, flower and blade of grass, and letting them explore and discover in their own time can make walks relaxing and mindful for you, too.
6. Give your walk a purpose
After 12 months of walking being one of our few permitted forms of entertainment, the novelty of an aimless wander is wearing off. Going for a walk with a purpose, however, can be much more motivating for children and adults alike.
According to the Register of Play Inspectors International, playground use has increased by 31% during the latest lockdown, and walking to a park to use the apparatus can be a great encouragement for children of all ages.
If you don’t fancy a playground, there are lots of other ways to make walking more purposeful and pleasurable, such as taking a fishing net and bucket to a nearby stream, meeting friends for a game of football (subject to the latest social distancing rules), or walking to a nearby station to watch the trains.
7. Hunt for treasure
Outdoor treasure trails and scavenger hunts are fun for children of all ages, and there are lots of great ideas online that you can use.
Living Streets has a free #WalkingFromHome activity booklet with 14 sets of activities for primary school children, each with three challenges for different age groups.
‘We’ve also been running a photography competition on Twitter and Instagram with weekly themes, where people can share photos of things they’ve spotted on their walks,’ says Kathryn.
Treasure Trails sells self-guided trail booklets specific to hundreds of towns and cities across the UK, which make a change from nature-based treasure or scavenger hunts. There are also lots of ideas on Pinterest, including free printables, and Paths for All has a free Nature Bingo game.
Spotters’ guidebooks are perennially popular, too, with themes ranging from birds and insects to road signs and planes.
If you have an older child who’s hard to get off screens, geocaching – a type of scavenger hunt that uses your phone’s GPS to locate hidden ‘treasure’ – could be an incentive to get outside.
8. Play as you go
Playing games as you walk can help make the time go faster for your child, and give brain as well as body a workout.
‘Word games like Opposites, I Spy and I Went to the Market can inject a fun twist into a regular walk,’ says Frances.
Other good ideas inspired by your surroundings include making words or phrases from car number plates (for example, ILY = I love you), or spotting objects beginning with each letter of the alphabet in order.
The Love Exploring app features guided walks, games and trails and augmented reality fun.
9. Walk to school
If possible, walking the school run is one of the easiest ways to build exercise into your day, and with one in four cars on the road at peak time travelling to school, it can reduce pollution and traffic congestion.
Setting your child a goal can help make them more enthusiastic about walking to and from school, and many schools have signed up to Living Streets’ WOW Activity Tracker.
‘This allows children to track their daily exercise, whether they’re walking to school, going on family walks or skipping at home,’ explains Kathryn. ‘Children who meet the level of activity set by their school earn a monthly badge.’
If your school doesn’t participate in WOW, why not give your child an activity tracker like a Fitbit or use the step tracker on your phone to see how far you’ve walked? Setting a daily target can be a good motivator for you and your child.
‘You could also freshen up your walk to school by varying your route, letting your child pick which way to go and guess how long it’ll take you, or how many steps,’ suggests Frances.
10. Talk as you walk
Many children come out of school reluctant to talk about their day, but when you’re walking together, you may well find the details start to come out, making it a valuable opportunity to chat one-to-one.
Tweens and teens may not let you walk them to school any more, but a weekend walk could be a good time to have proper conversations: they’ll often open up more if you’re strolling side by side than if you try to sit them down for a talk at home.
Many adults use walks as a chance to talk to friends, family or colleagues on the phone, so why not let your child do the same?
‘Take your phone, and let them catch up with grandparents or friends while they’re walking,’ Frances suggests.
11. Set them a challenge
Kids love having their efforts recognised, so signing them up for an activity challenge – with a prize at the end – can give them an incentive to get walking.
MedalMad runs virtual activity challenges for children, with trials to join including the 10km Ice Cream Rundae and a three-month Around the World in 80K challenge. You track their activity online or with an app, and once the activity is completed, your child receives a medal by post.
Race at Your Pace is a similar concept with daily steps, walking and wheelchair challenges for disabled kids.
Alternatively, you could set your own challenge that’s appropriate to your child’s age and ability, and print out a reward certificate to award them when they complete the task.
12. Give them a reward
What better motivation to get walking than a reward at the end – for you and your child? Suggest a walk to a bakery, ice cream van or coffee shop and they’ll have their shoes and coat on in no time!