Suggest a family walk and your children might well groan and roll their eyes, but once they’re unplugged from their screens and out with you, it’s amazing how quickly they transform into boisterous, red-cheeked children with seemingly limitless energy.
“Once you’re out of the door, you’ll have a happy family time - and the best bit is it’s free,” says Clare Lewis, co-founder of Adventure Walks Books. She suggests involving children in the process of leaving the house, from planning where to go, to packing small rucksacks, so they become excited rather than being passive.
Besides not having to fork out a fortune for fun, a family walk will bond you together with shared experiences and the opportunity to chat in a less intense way than sitting face to face.
Chris Bennett, Head of Behaviour Change at Sustrans, the UK walking and cycling charity which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, says: “Walking is one of the easiest ways to be active and it’s a great way to spend quality time together. Not only is it a good way to exercise, it’s also the perfect opportunity for children to explore their surroundings and gives them a sense of adventure and independence.
“Instilling a love of walking in children from a young age has long lasting benefits, as well as developing road awareness to encourage independent walking as a teenager, it also creates good habits for an active adult life.”
Clare Lewis also points out that walking with your kids will also instill in them a familiarity with their local neighbourhood, increasing independence and giving them a sense of resourcefulness and responsibility, and an interest in nature (and its fragility) and their environment.
What’s not to love about a family walk? Here are some ways to ramp up the enjoyment.
Don't say 'who wants to go for a walk?'
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Reframe a walk so it's enticing and exciting using words like explore, play, adventure.Who wants to climb a castle or who wants to find some treasure or skim stones?
Don't plod in a straight line - and back again.
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Choose a wiggly walk and terrain made for adventuring. "It's all about keeping children's minds off putting one foot in front of another," says Clare Lewis.
Always have an appealing destination - and make pit-stops along the way.
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It could be a café with their favourite hot chocolate or their 'secret' place like a climbing tree. Make regular stops to admire natural curiosities, make a den, whittle a stick or play in water or whatever you fancy. Encourage your kids to take photos. Clare Lewis's family always take 'scroggin'; a New Zealand name for a hikers' mix of nuts and seeds, dried fruit and chocolate to keep energy levels up.
Join forces with another family or get the kids to bring their friends.
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Children love the sociability of a walk and bringing friends increases their activity as they challenge each other to jump the highest or widest, splash in puddles, climb trees or find the best stick.
Walk together in a chatty clod, not a single line with you barking 'come on, keep up'
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There may be times you have to walk in a line, but take turns with who's the leader. Also, let your children choose the route (within reason!).
Play games as you go.
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Hide-and-seek, capture the flag
or ambushes - sending kids on ahead so they can jump out on you - are all favourites. Bring a ball or a Frisbee to play with too.
Turn your walk into a treasure hunt. Or an obstacle course.
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Children love places to clamber over like a rocky beach or challenges like climbing trees or jumping over streams. Challenge children to touch that tree and run back, hopscotch between the pavement cracks or run along the low wall. "You could go on a shape walk, finding stones, shells and leaves that are all the same shape," suggests Clare Lewis, co-author of Adventure Walks for Families in and Around London
End on a high.
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Match a walk to your kids' ages. You don't want want to leave them exhausted. Talk up what fun you had, so next time you suggest an adventure walk they leap at the chance.