Julie is the author of a number of guidebooks, including 'Melbourne's Best Bush Bay and City Walks' & 'Melbourne for Dogs' (with RSPCA). Read more of her adventures at her walks blog: walksmelbourne.com
Published July 4th 2012
Do your kids enjoy walking, or do they whine the whole way? In my experience, even the smallest kids can enjoy getting out for a walk, as long as you put some thought into it before you go. Here are my top 10 tips to remember for a successful adventure:
1. Kids' legs are much shorter than yours - so plan for a short walk. I recommend no more than 2km to get started, and you can build up from there, though many very young children can often enjoy walking much longer distances. Comfortable, supporting shoes, like runners, are essential.
2. Make sure there are interesting things along the way - like a beach, a little stream to explore, some wildlife, a playground, interesting tracks and trees - and allow time to explore them.
3. Think about planning a walk which has a cafe in the middle or at the start; there is nothing like the promise of an ice-cream to boost flagging enthusiasm! If there is no cafe en route, bring along some extra-yummy refreshments to have along the way, and make a fuss over it. Sitting down on a picnic rug in the shade is a welcome break.
4. Don't allow your kids to become thirsty, keep fluids up as they go. If they complain they are thirsty, then they are already dehydrated, and little bodies can suffer quickly. The same applies to sun cover: hats, shade and sun-cream are all essential even on cloudy days. If it is going to be warm, choose a walk you know to have lots of shade or the potential for a paddle or a swim, and consider going early in the day before it gets too hot. If it's going to be cold, remember a warm beanie, but dress them in layers so they can strip off, as kids run hot when out and about!
5. Get your kids involved in planning or even leading the walk, if they are a little older - show them the map and how to understand it. My son perks up no end when he gets to hold and use the compass or GPS.
6. Give your children a 'job' or challenges along the way. Allowing children to have responsibility for taking photos on the walk, or collecting interesting bits and pieces as they go and putting them in a paper 'treasure' bag to explore later can be lots of fun.
7. Let them bring a friend, or invite another family with kids the same age or a little older, to distract and entertain them along the way.
8. If they are a little older, let them use a 'walking stick', as long as they can use it safely and not run with it or poke out eyes - you can usually find a suitable one along the way.
9. If little legs are tiring before you reach the end, despite everyone's efforts, think about singing games, or 'counting down' the steps, by bundling them into 'let's do 100 steps and see where we get to'.
10. When all else fails, a pocketful of lollies or other bribes, er, incentives can work a treat ('when we reach the top of the hill, let's have a yellow smartie, or you can choose a balloon from my pocket to blow up!')
If you put in the effort to make it fun, you will be repaid ten-fold, with children asking when you are going to take them out again.
Do you have any hints or tricks to encourage small children to get out walking with you? Where are your favourite walks with children?
In Brisbane, we like the Summit Walk at Mt Coot-tha. We've also done lots of walks at Girraweeen National Park, Lamington National Park, Mt Barney, Mt Warning, etc. Our boys are now 8 and 10 and, generally, we just use the promise of adventure and a great view/waterfall/etc to get them going (although there are ice-creams at the end of the Mt Coot-tha walk). I've been surprised to find that they actually prefer harder walks -- they tend to think easy walks that are just pretty are boring! Give them some rocks to climb or a creek to cross and they're far more interested. As for lollies, we don't use them as bribes, but they actually are very useful as a sugar hit to get energy levels up again quickly (e.g. at the top of Mt Warning we were very grateful to the teenagers who shared their lolly snakes with our tired kids).
Sometimes it is only the thought of a food "treat" that will get them over the hard bits. My suggestion is to make sure that the food you take is worth the walk and not the kind of food you get everyday. This might be home made biscuits, cheese and bacon rolls from the bakery, cheese sticks instead of regular cheese etc. If kids are less motivated by the walk, at least the lunch or morning tea is worth the outing. A plain vegemite sandwich may just not cut it with the littlies!
Seriously? Bribing with ice cream and lollies? Surely you could come up with something a little healthier or inventive than that. No mention of dinosaur fossil finding, feeding ducks in the stream, looking for yabbies/fish either.