Find ways to get your children out of the house, away from screens and walking outside. These 10 tips will help make walking with kids a favorite family activity.
When my son was born, I decided to give up driving and focus on walking as much as possible. I realize that isn’t a luxury that every mom has. I work from home, I live in an area that is close to supermarkets and schools alike. While I still needed to drive occasionally, for the most part I used a stroller and a good pair of shoes as my means for getting around.
Now that my children are older, being on foot everywhere we go isn’t always realistic. I, like many other moms, tend to pack too many things into a single day. That means that some days it feels like we are spending more hours in the car than we are at home. Still, we make the point to work in a family walking activity as often as possible.
Benefits of Walking with Kids
Walking with kids outdoors offers a multitude of health benefits. Cardiovascular activity of any kind is good for the cardiovascular, respiratory and immune systems. Being outdoors relieves eye strain for those who spend too many hours looking at screens.
Sunlight is a primary source of vitamin D, which is vital for strong bones, pain management and can even prevent certain cancers. What’s more, studies have shown that about 1 billion people worldwide are vitamin D deficient.
Encouraging kids to walk at a young age gets a healthy habit started. They are more likely to continue making exercise a priority throughout their lives. It can help them to have better concentration, a healthier body and a stronger connection to the world around them.
10 Tips for Making Family Walks More Frequent and Fun
If you are like me, then you are always looking for more ways to increase and improve moments spent together. These ideas have been tested and proven to work for many families.
1. Make It a Regular Routine
My family goes on outdoor excursions after dinner. We all know that once dinner is over, we need to lace up our shoes and head outside. After-dinner treks aid digestion and are much better for youngsters than watching TV. The after-dinner exercise also encourages slow eaters to pick up the pace.
There is no reason anyone should feel as though they have to stick to a mealtime routine. Any part of the day is good for exercising together. Some may prefer walking with kids first thing in the morning. Others might find family walking is best just before bed. Still others might be able to go walking with kids on the weekend. The type of routine is less important than the development of a good habit.
2. Play a Game
Around the days my young ones started nursery school, we started planning fun things to do on a walk. The school was about a half mile from our house, which meant we almost always walked. On the way, we would take advantage of games like I Spy or Spot the Shape.
One of our favorites was the ABC game. We would take turns finding things along the way that started with each letter. Invariably, we would find lots of acorns, brick walls and cars.
We would get frustrated at finding anything that started with a Q and we would skip the letter X if we made it that far. We had a lot of laughs while the kids learned about letter sounds and how to pay attention to the world around them.
3. Get Connected to Nature
Walking with toddlers is so much fun when they are engaged with their surroundings. When mine were still toddlers, our strolls together became more of a learning experience than a simple exercise.
One of our favorite activities was to stop and close our eyes and listen to the sounds around us. Birds, cars and the blowing wind were all common. Sometimes we would hear squirrels rustling in the bushes or a frog croaking in the distance. We would then open our eyes and continue on our way.
Another fun activity is nature collecting. My tots loved to pick up pretty leaves or rocks. As long as it didn’t disturb the habitat, I encouraged this. Now that they are older, we take pictures as we explore. We also keep a checklist of the different species of birds we spot.
4. Go On a Scavenger Hunt
A scavenger hunt is one of the greatest inventions we have experienced. It allows us to explore with a goal in mind. Better still, a mom can make a list that is as simple or complex as she likes.
A simple scavenger hunt might ask young ones to find a heart-shaped leaf, a shiny rock or a stick that is long enough to be a wand. Families can change the scavenger hunt to suit their environment and what they know could be reasonable to find.
A different type of scavenger hunt requires families to make or do things while enjoying the great outdoors. Have young ones take a picture of themselves doing a handstand next to a tree or a video of skipping through a stream.
Teach them about safety by requiring them to have a video of themselves looking both ways before crossing a street. Just make sure they aren’t distracted if they are in areas with traffic.
5. Get to Know Each Other
My daughter likes to talk. It is never a struggle to get her to tell me about her day or what is going on in her life.
My son is a different story. I often use this opportunity to get to know what he is thinking or how he is feeling. It can start with a simple question, like who is his favorite superhero or what food he could eat every day without fail (Iron Man and pizza, for the record).
I’ll follow up with questions about why he feels the way he does about those innocuous things and it usually leads to a nice conversation.
There are a lot of questions a mom can ask a child, no matter what their age. Ask about favorite books, colors, animals or beloved characters. Ask about vacation spots, party themes or future occupations.
Those who have difficulty with open-ended questions can benefit from choices. “Would you rather be able to fly or turn invisible?” is a fun way to start.
6. Use Your Imagination
My daughter loves storytelling. She often asks if we can go on one of our trips just so we can “write a story.” Our rule for this is that each person only gets to tell one sentence of the story before it is the next one’s turn.
The next person can go in any direction they want but they can’t reject what was “written” before them. There are no “it was all a dream” scenarios.
A different way for little ones to use their imagination is to pretend they are going on an adventure. I will never forget the day my kids decided to go to France. They picked up sticks along the way so they could build a raft when they got to the ocean.
We have also had many epic adventures escaping from pirates, being secret agents and trying to outrun the dinosaurs who were chasing us.
7. Tell a Story
My son and daughter greatly enjoying reading, which is hard to do while not sitting still. Therefore, when they were young, I committed myself to memorizing their favorite books. It wasn’t hard considering we read those same books about 3,596 times every day.
Dr. Seuss books are easy to memorize. I chose “Dr. Seuss’s ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book” and “Ten Apples Up on Top”. I also memorized “The Berenstains’ A Book”. I would recite the books while pushing the stroller and they were perfectly entertained while getting fresh air.
8. Get Competitive
As juveniles grow, they love to compete. Make the journey a fun competition for everyone. It could be a competition about speed and stamina, but it could also be “Who can go the longest without complaining?” or “Who can come up with the most things that start with the letter G?”
An excellent tool for competition is a pedometer. A fun idea for a challenge is to see who can get in as many steps as possible in a day. A fitness tracker is a good choice for kids walking as young as five.
9. Avoid Annoyances
A mom who finds her little ones don’t want to go on outings should try to find out why. If a young one is tired or achy after playing all day, switch exercise to the morning. If their feet get sore while hiking, consider buying shoes that are suited for more use.
The issue might be something less obvious to you. My husband is 6’4″. His legs are longer than the CN Tower. He would snap at our son and daughter when they couldn’t keep up with him, which made the entire ordeal unbearable.
When he finally realized that one of his steps equaled three of theirs, he learned to slow down. Moms need to make sure their expectations aren’t unreasonable for outdoor activities. Youngsters may only be able to go for a few blocks rather than a couple of miles.
10. Plan the Route Carefully
My son and daughter have to use the restroom approximately every three seconds. I plan our route in such a way that we can either quickly return to our house or reach a public facility. I also encourage them to use the restroom before we leave whether they feel they need to or not.
Other issues along a route can be avoided with planning. Try to keep young ones away from areas with heavy traffic, if possible. Skip routes that might be iced over, snow covered or flooded, depending on recent weather.
More unique situations are important to consider as well. For instance, my daughter is terrified of grasshoppers. In the summer, we avoid grassy areas if it is evening or early morning, when the grasshoppers are most active. No matter how silly it may seem, it is much more enjoyable to pick a route that works for everyone.
Whether you use one of these tips or not, what is really important is getting outside and moving. Spending that time together in the fresh air is a healthy habit that will last into your child’s adulthood. They’ll also have wonderful memories of many happy, outdoor days with their family.