Did you know that May is National Walking Month? With the weather improving, and the days getting longer and warmer, now is the perfect time to get out and about with your kids. And it’s hard to beat walking for an activity that has great health benefits and is free as well.
Daily exercise is important for kids (and grown-ups too!), and walking can help develop a healthy heart, strong bones and muscles, and provide a dose of vitamin D from being outside. And getting kids into good habits when they’re young can help prevent them developing health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure later in life.
But it’s not always easy to convince them about the importance of walking, is it? If you’ve ever dragged a whiny child (or several!) on a walk, you’ll know it can be more about endurance than enjoyment. But here are 10 easy ways to make walking more fun.
1. Walk to school
This is one of the simplest ways to get your kids active. Yes, you will have to be a bit more organised in the morning, but it’s worth it to give your youngsters an energy boost with a brisk walk to school. In fact , there’s evidence to show that walking to school may help them learn better when they get there.
2. Take the dog for a walk
If you’re lucky enough to have a dog, it’s much more fun taking a walk with a furry friend than going on your own. Smaller children will enjoy being out as a family, and older kids can take their pet out themselves. If you don’t own a dog, why not ‘borrow’ one from a neighbour?
3. Walk to the shops
We’re so used to parking outside a superstore once a week and loading everything into the car, that we’ve got out of the habit of walking to the shops. Why not make a daily visit, to buy a paper or a pint of milk? Again, older children could be sent on their own – they may even enjoy the responsibility.
4. Follow a walking trail
But to take kids on a longer walk means you have to think of a way to make it more fun. And walking trails are a superb way to do this. You can buy leaflets cheaply in newsagents and tourist centres, or to make it even more quick and simple, download them from the internet. There’s a wealth of different trails available, some embedded within apps so you can use your smartphone. Try the Forestry Commission’s Gruffalo or Stickman trails, National Trust family walks, or the City of London Children’s Trail.
5. Do a treasure hunt
Again, you can find these easily on the internet (e.g. Huntfun). Download onto your phone or print it out, put on your walking shoes, and you’re good to go. Children will love solving the clues, and there’s often a small prize or certificate to be had once you’ve completed the hunt. If all else fails, offer your own reward if they finish.
6. Go on a scavenger hunt
This is a bit different from a treasure hunt, as you don’t always need to solve clues (although some inventive versions combine the two). Either buy a list of objects to collect as you walk (e.g. this one from Holiday Cottages), or make your own up before you go. A rural walk could include leaves from different trees, twigs and pebbles, making bark rubbings of various trees, etc.
7. Explore a book or film location
My grandchildren love visiting the Ashdown Forest, better known as the Hundred Acre Wood, home to Winnie-the-Pooh and friends. You can even play Pooh-sticks on the original bridge. When my kids were small, we followed the locations in some of the Swallow & Amazons books. There’s nothing like visiting a ‘real’ location for bringing a story alive. If all else fails, imagine your own – was that a Gruffalo hiding behind that tree?
8. Go Geocaching
Geocaching is becoming a hugely popular pastime and it’s a wonderful way to encourage kids to walk that bit further. A geocache is a container hidden in a location, usually containing a log book and sometimes small gifts (known as ‘swag’) for children. The cache is logged at Geocaching.com. You can download an app for your phone which gives you clues, and uses GPS to help you find the right spot. Geocaches are literally a world-wide hobby, so you can look for them wherever you are. But beware – it can become a bit addictive!
9. Enjoy a mini-beast safari
Arm yourself with a mini-beast guide (try this one from the Woodland Trust), magnifying glass, and some small transparent collection pots, and you’re ready for a mini-beast safari. While you’re walking, look in all the likely locations for mini-beasts, such as under rocks and stones, in hollow logs, in grassy areas, and trees and bushes. And you’d be surprised at how much insect life is out there, even in the heart of the city.
10. Do a maths walk
This is especially good in built-up areas, but you do need to prepare. Think about all the ‘evidence’ of maths around us and devise a tick-list of examples. Windows can be all kinds of shapes, as can road signs – try an find an examples of every 2D shape. You can do this with 3D shapes too (e.g. a telegraph pole is a long cylinder). Play games with car number plates, look at the patterns of brick walls (there are lots of different brick arrangements), or count how many lamp-posts on your street. Tally different colours of car. Once you start, you’ll find it hard to stop. So what are you waiting for? Why not get out and enjoy a good walk today?
Image courtesy of Stephanos Papchristou at Flickr Creative Commons