In these mad times the family walk has taken on a whole new importance, combining much-needed exercise and a sanity break in one. But it's so much better if the kids are enjoying themselves too. So long as you can employ a bit of imagination to keep your children's minds busy then they won't notice anything to grumble about - and no one's going to mind if you make the daily family trip to the park a bit more interesting. Building up some strength for walking now is a great investment for future adventures, too.
Keep it fun!
There was a time when I had my two youngest boys three days week under my care for daddy-day-care. Harry would have been one and Patrick three, and we had this dog that didn't care for my problems, and that wanted and needed exercising, every day. So pretty much ever since the kids could walk we used to head to the nearby Rivelin Valley for an "Adventure Walk".
This would comprise me applying gaffa tape over the kids' waterproof trousers, taping the trousers to their wellies, in effect making waders. We'd walk down the hill all of about 200m to a stream which the boys would then wade along, kicking water as they went. If the boots leaked (and they always did at some point) they'd shout out "it leaks!". The stream was a good 400m long – so by the end of this we'd covered the best part of half a mile. At the end of the stream there is a small waterfall, which we would traditionally stand at the top of, kicking water down. Kicking water off the top of something high is fun.
After all that they'd be fairly wet. So I always brought a flask of hot chocolate, some fruit and a chocolate biscuit. Finally we'd cover the last 400m back to the car up the third track playing hide and seek. Now we might only have walked 1km but for them that was some feat, and with plenty of stick throwing the hound would be happy too.
At present this does depend on having suitable water within walking distance of home. Perhaps you're lucky enough to live near a clean stream, or the beach (yucky urban canals not recommended!). There's a lot of fun in going for a walk on a warm day, having a picnic, and jumping in a river. For non-swimming children simply find a spot for paddling or dam building.
No, I'm not trolling. Sometimes walks lead you over bridges that cross a river, and this is a perfect opportunity for adventure. At that point, kids may like nothing better than taking the low, wet, road.
Go to your nearest woods one day after rain. Find some really good bog, take off your shoes and socks and enjoy the sensation of walking through mud. And then start a mud fight...
On my birthday last year my missus wanted to know what 'great plan' I had this year to celebrate the day, with the kids included. It was raining outside, but I decided that an adventure walk would work a treat. So we packed some eggs, bacon, tomato sauce and a loaf of bread. I also packed an old army poncho, some string, a camp stove and a frying pan. It was still raining, my missus looked dubious, but it was my birthday so she went along with it. We walked maybe a mile and then established a temporary 'camp' in the woods. We pulled up some logs to sit on and erected the shelter. We fried up the eggs and bacon and each had our bacon and egg banjos under the shelter. The kids loved it… And so did the adults!
Set a trail for your kids to follow. Used sparingly, dots of plain flour work well (it is PH neutral and will quickly disappear in a day or two). At junctions draw a circle of flour which indicates that there are choices of ways to go. Two consecutive dots would mean that is the right way to go. One dot or a cross might show a false trail. I once set a hash to take our kids two full miles to the local park.
Google "permanent orienteering course" for your area and see what comes up. Or just search "orienteering events near me". This is essentially an opportunity for your kids to go on an organised treasure hunt that someone else has already set up. Below are some open orienteering courses that I have set up for London and Sheffield parks.
1. First, get the free Sporteering app from Google Play (for android) or from the App Store (for Apple iPhones). Register your details with them.
2. For each course below simply search for it on your Sporteering app. (Just scroll through 'Events'). Filter the results by Country (UK) Discipline (Foot) and distance to start.
3. For each course below, click on the map link for a 1:5000 scale orienteering map with the controls marked. (Best to print this off at home – or just read from your phone). On these maps the controls are numbered in multiples of 10 relating to their scores. Eg #42 is worth 40 points and #31 would be worth 30 points. The Sporteering app also allows you to view a map on the screen. For novices and children, the best option is to print off a map beforehand.
4. In the Sporteering app, start the course by clicking on "Scan GPS" once you are at the start/finish location
5. Finish the course by clicking on "Scan GPS" on the Sporteering app once you are at the start/finish location
It doesn't take much for your kids to create their own adventure – so long as you can give them the raw ingredients. These begin with where you take them. A forest is great for playing hide and seek. Rivers and streams are great for swimming or paddling. The coast is great for rock-pooling. There may be scope in your area for scrambling over and under boulders. Or perhaps you can link up a number of good climbing trees. Just look at the area around you with your children's eyes and see the potential for an adventure!
This might seem hard to do, but you don't even have to be that creative. It's incredibly motivational and really quite easy to do. If you can't make one up to order, think of a story you know and plagiarise it in your own words with your kids' names added. My boys are fascinated with the idea of time travel, cue "Back to the Future" and literally hours of story telling. If you can walk while holding hands, telling them a story makes the miles fly by. This is possibly the best tip of the lot.
Will Legon of Will4Adventure, professional mountain leader and a climbing instructor, and now full time home-schooler to his three kids. One day in the future he will recommence his career in the outdoors taking people walking, climbing and families on their own bespoke adventures!