The Importance of the Family Walk
Enjoyable family walks are a series of activities linked together with walking.
One of my loves is the great outdoors, and I want to share this with my family. I know that my happiest days often involve moving through nature with people. My personal aims often involve long distances and early starts. I aspire to a time when my children are old enough to have the same ambitions. Understandably they do not, and few children younger than about 16 will. When planning a family walk, I make sure that my priority is that, as a family, we want to do it again—not collecting some bragging rights for Facebook or the school car park. This rings true for a bike ride or any other type of journey. Quality time with children is about being present. A walk is a perfect opportunity for this, and if the aim is time together it will be a success for all.
We have all made the mistake of meeting up with other people for a walk to end in disappointment. Bored kids and one parent annoyed as they have ‘babysit’ for the whole day or frustrated that you did not have a meaningful talk with the person you arranged to meet. Children do not find enjoyment in walking for 4 hours, talking with adults, or following behind in silence as you speak to another adult. You are only setting yourself up for failure if you do this. It can work if meeting up with a family of similar age children. When the children were 5 and 8, we could go for 10 hours walk up mountains. The children were engrossed with talking about Minecraft or making up songs with their friends; they never realized they were walking. I stress it only worked as the walk was secondary to the play date. They had to have people with us they wanted to talk to.
Planning the Family Walk
When planning any family walk, look at it as a series of activities, not a distance or a summit to conquer. If you assume that a child will walk for around 30 minutes to an hour before they are bored, this gives you an idea of how many activities you may need to link together. We walk about 2 miles an hour, including breaks and activities. If I wanted to do an 8-mile walk, I would assume 5 hours and maybe three to four activities. Every family is different, so it might be that you must come up with your own formula based on experience. Activities can range from Geocaching, blocking a stream, scrambling, to climbing a tree. They can be brief, stone skimming, or long, cloud-watching.
Remember, this is the point of the walk for a child, so when planning your route, give activities as much thought as the peaks and views you want to take. Some can be pulled out of the bag at any time. How about taking a photo? But give them the phone and let them experiment. You might be losing control of the image, but you are gaining a small positive that your children will remember that family walk. Family walks will therefore become associated with them, rather than something that their parents want to do. There are little games like ‘stone balancing’ that you can do at any time when morale is flagging. Here we discuss more why your parenting plan must be joint. and, as perhaps if you don’t agree on this, walks is something they do with their dad for instance.
Choosing Flexible Route Options
It is always good to look at a range of routes on a circular family walk. Are there bits you can cut off if you decide to spend longer skimming stones or climbing trees? Therefore you don’t have to rush these to complete a route that you feel you must stick to. Also, are there areas that your children enjoy? For me, the idea of going continuing back to the same scramble would be tedious, but for children, that bit of familiarity is enjoyable as they gain confidence on that same piece of rock.
Compromise, maybe walk to it by another route. Always leave them wanting more. Under judge the distance that they can do. I know mine can do 20 miles plus days and big summits. But they don’t have to do that every day. Their favorite days are 8 to 10 miles, which they don’t realize. They are doing lots of things in the day: probably 4 or 5 activities and a packed lunch. And again, the packed lunch they make at lunchtime. I get laughed at as a carry a French stick out of the top of my bag and a knife. The children then make what they want at the time. It’s a 30 minutes activity they enjoy, rather than me handing them a sandwich that they then eat in silence.
Examples of Activities for Family Walks
Look at the area that your family is walking in. You may know it very well already. Is there a variety of physical features that you can use? You don’t have to start from scratch. Online there are bound to be things recommended by other families in the area. Examples could be:
- Paddling or blocking up a stream is enjoyable for any child under 12, as is skimming stones. They can always dry their feet on a spare jumper, and dry socks are always worth space in a bag. Also, make emergency gloves!
- Are there some slabs they can scramble on? Perhaps they can go on a more adventurous route to the top as you walk along aside them. When you get there, you might decide you have to spot them. As long as you are adaptable, they can be used as a focal point.
- How about a wood they can build a den in or climb and balance on trees.
Once you have two or three of these features in a small area, you can look at how you might link them together to the length of the route you are looking for. It might be that you can see a range of routes. There is no need to set your heart on one as you need the flexibility to change them as you go.
Once you have some location-specific activities to do, what other ones can you pull out of your rucksack at a moment’s notice? Examples of these include
- You can get small kites now, which in two minutes can be up in the air.
- Who can balance stones on the back of their two hands as they walk up the hill?
- How about finding something beginning with a specific letter, the biggest thing, something that looks like a face? The children will scatter out, hopefully in the right direction looking at twigs, leaves, and stones.
- Have you some wax crayons and paper in your bag? How about nature rubbings.
- Download the Geocache app on your phone, instant treasure hunt.
- Bug hunting
- Map reading. Can they see certain features on the walk? As I have an overview of the general direction we are heading in, I often let my children decide if we will turn left or right as it doesn’t matter to me, and I am confident in my skills to get us out of trouble if we need to.
Talk to them!
I love going on a family walk with my children because it is the perfect opportunity to talk to them. We advise on how to talk to your children here. But a walk is the ideal opportunity, not face to face, with plenty of time and no distractions. Want to get to the bottom of why they are so upset? Rather than sit them down for a high-pressure face-to-face. You have the time to talk about nonsense (Minecraft), then slowly bring the conversation to friends, and then let them talk. As they have been chatting away for the last 30 minutes with you and it is not planned, you will see that they are much more likely to open up.
It is also an excellent opportunity to connect on those more open topics with all this time. What makes them happy, what are their fears? Things that are often lost in the day-to-day rush.
Final Thoughts on How to Enjoy a Family Walk
- Think of a walk as a series of activities linked together rather than a walk.
- Let your children have some ownership of the plan.
- Have several routes that you can shift between as time, and moods, allow.
- Plan some exciting areas to visit, then look at how they can be linked together.
- Have some activities in your bag that can be pulled out at any time.
- Be confident and prepared for basic first aid and weather changes.
- Enjoy it. Talk to your family and be present.
We have a separate article giving ideas on how to have a great family night in.