Invigorating family walks are often presented as an ideal bonding activity; a chance to have fun together and learn about nature and geography while enjoying the benefits of fresh air and exercise. However, in reality they can become fraught with sulking or temper tantrums and a battle with over-tired or bored kids.
While it is not always possible to prevent this unfortunate outcome, there are some steps that you can take which can help the whole family to make the most of the occasion. Here are some top tips to keep the mood upbeat and enthusiastic on your next family outing.
Create some anticipation
When you announce your plans, make sure that you sound enthusiastic yourself, and show how much that you are looking forward to the adventure. Hopefully your kids will pick up on your enthusiasm and are less likely to be hostile and resistant to the idea of stepping out of their comfort zone.
Older kids can be harder to impress, but it may help to get them involved in choosing the location, route, and packing the correct gear and so on. This will be a great foundation for the future, when hopefully they will feel confident in planning their own outings.
Don’t overface them
Challenge is good, but it’s important to ensure that the distance, elevation, and difficulty level are appropriate for your kids. Remember that it's not about your Munro bagging ambitions, but a chance to introduce your children to the joys of the great outdoors at a pace they can handle.
The route will obviously depend to some extent on the age of your children and level of your own hillwalking experience. Aim to have some fun and fresh air rather than clock up miles or reach the summit of a mountain. As your kids get older, the more confident and able they will become and one day you might be the one lagging behind!
Use mishaps as learning opportunities
At some stage, you are bound to encounter a (hopefully minor) mishap or setback. Even the best laid plans can go awry, but it’s a great chance to lead by example and demonstrate that unexpected situations can be dealt with in a calm way with no big drama.
For example, straying onto the wrong path can be used as an opportunity to get your kids involved in navigation and map reading skills. A sudden turn in the weather can help them to understand the challenges of outdoor adventure better and teach them the importance of packing the right kit. The same goes for dealing with minor injuries, stings or insect bites.
Remember that if you panic, moan, or become frustrated at any point on the walk, your kids will learn this behaviour and it may even put them off outdoor experiences in the future.
Team up with other families
Having some friends along with kids of similar age can provide a source of camaraderie and moral support. This boosts motivation and will encourage your children to keep the worst of their moaning and sulking in check. It can also serve a sense of healthy competition as some kids will always like the chance to show off or prove themselves.
Make it interesting
A trek for miles over a featureless landscape can turn into an endurance march for adults, never mind children. Therefore try and plan a route with some variety and interest, such as historical monuments, or lakes or streams to splash about in at stopover points.
You could also make a chart or even download an app to encourage them to spot wildlife along the way, such as species of trees, birds, flowers, fungi, or wild animals. It may be a good idea to bring along a magnifying glass or telescope to help them with their discoveries, or even just a sketchbook and pencils to take rubbings, make drawings, or jot down notes.
Plan a treat to celebrate the end of the hike
Keep motivation high by planning a treat to celebrate the end of your family day together, such as calling for a pub meal on the way home or getting a takeaway of your kids’ favourite food. This will also save you the chore of cooking and washing up at the end of a long and tiring day!
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