We try to get out for a walk every day, even if it’s only a short walk in our campo (countryside). We have the luxury of wonderful weather, most days (yes it does rain in Spain) and spectacular scenery. We have always enjoyed walking and hiking and really hope that we can pass on our passion for the great outdoors to our children.
At the moment with a two and just recently turned four year old, the longest walks we attempt are 6km circular routes. We carry the two year old for some of the walk, the longest he has probably walked is 3km. Our four year old walks, the whole way. It might not be a long walk for some but it took us quite a journey to get here and we’re really proud that we can go for family walks together.
So here’s our top tips for walking and hiking with young children:
Without doubt the biggest factor for failing. If your children are unmotivated they won’t enjoy their walk. Motivation, praise and encouragement always go a long way to ensuring a successful walk. Our eldest loves to map read and lead the way because, why…because of course he’s simply brilliant at spotting the signs and following the route! For some strange reason unbeknown to both of of us, the boys are both so much happier and focused when they are holding something in their hands (go figure!), or take a backpack with toys. Always take toys, even if they protest, when it comes to picnic time they will love the fact that you have packed a few lightweight toys to play with. Try a few alternatives and do whatever works for your children!
If all else fails, feed them. A child will always be happy with snacks, well our two are anyway! We always pack a complete range, from the healthier options of bananas (ours could eat their own bodyweight in bananas), apples, dried fruit and rice cakes to the occasional sweets or crisps. Our two love these Fig and Nut Energy Bars as a boosting healthy snack. Snacks are rarely turned down and always seem to lift ailing spirits.
This obviously carries on from above but the promise of a picnic when you reach the top of the hill/mountain always goes down well. You can spend some time discussing the content of the picnic and how welcome it will be when you find the best ever picnic spot to devour your prize. We also get the boys to help us find the best spots, follow their lead and you might end up picnicking in the strangest of places!
4. Clothing = Layers
Children are the the worst at expressing their discomfort if they are too hot or too cold. The best way we have to alleviate this is to always have options available. Our boys don’t have big winter coats, they have fleece lined water proofs a size bigger than needed, that way we can use the waterproofs all year round and add layers underneath if needed. Waterproofs are also lightweight to carry, if Daddy is carrying one child and Mummy all the gear and snacks, every gram counts!
These can range from any number of things that spark our imagination on the walk to the good old tried and tested.
Spot the…tractor, where we live there are lots and you get points for spotting it first and naming the colour. Bonus points if you can say the correct colour in English and Spanish!
Motorbike/dirt bike racing, generally making silly noises pretending to change gear, skid around corners and always, always weave in and out of trees when available.
Muddy puddles, ditches, gates, water pipes, flora and fauna and any animals or insects are all great talking points and great spot the…games.
Without fail both Chaos and Mayhem love to find treasure. This involves keeping your eyes peeled whilst looking for anything intriguing or just out of place. Our treasure haul includes sticks, anything plastic, bottles, lids, ancient spoons, ancient pottery tiles, old toy cars, acorns, stones and doggie poo poo-which is not to be touched but laughed at and jumped over whislt shouting out poo-poo ka-ka balls!
If your walks are boring you will experience the whinge-factor and make the walk a complete disaster for everyone! We have learned from our mistakes that if the walk is one level, same terrain and with too much uphill without a rest then none of us will have an enjoyable walk. Look for walks that are circular, have interesting views, monuments, sculptures, sights or history. Somewhere your toddlers can be involved in the navigating following maps, finding signposts and navigate the way. A walk that you can help make fun and will capture their imagination and keep them interested. Our newest way to quash the whinge-factor is to sing. The Grand Old Duke of York is the BEST way to get your children up a hill! A good old-fashioned sing along, who can be sad when singing I’m H-A-P-P-Y, I’m H-A-P-P-Y, I know I am, I’m sure I am, I’m H-A-P-P-Y. Oh and skipping. Skipping is sooo much more fun than walking and being silly always lightens the mood.
When four year old Chaos started to enjoy walking we used to give him he option to go in the carrier if his legs got tired. We stopped taking the carrier with us, initially on short walks, then on longer and longer walks. If he wanted to get home he had to walk. On the very rare occasion that the whinge-fest became too much to bear and if we genuinely felt that he was too tired, or ill to walk, we would piggy-back him home for the sake of our own sanity. Luckily, this was very rare. Usually he stepped up and using the above tips we had him motivated enough to carry on walking.
8. Leading the Pack
Involve your children at all time following the route of your walk. From reading the map, to looking out for and searching for signs. If you involve them and get them excited about what they are doing and where they are going next, what they are trying to find, they are much more likely to enjoy themselves!
9. Holding Hands
If in doubt, hold their hands, support them and encourage them physically. Just the touch of Mummy and Daddy is both encouraging and comforting.
10. Go at their Pace
Probably the most important point on our list of tips that can make or break a walk or hike. If you try to rush your child, they will rebel, or worst still, wipe out! Give them time to stop and smell the roses, literally. If something takes their interest stop, admire, discuss and take time to listen to them. A child who is involved is much more likely to enjoy whatever you are doing.
We hope you have some success getting your outside and walking and hiking more. Have you any great tips for motivating and encouraging your children to walk and hike?
Follow our expat adventures as we travel in Portugal and Spain. Outdoor family fun, escaping the rat race in search of a more simple and alternative life.
Andrea, Paul and our two boys Chaos and Mayhem.
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