The countryside is criss-crossed with an amazing network of footpaths and bridle ways across farming land and forests, woods and national parkland, and they are free for us to use! Out in the fresh air, walking is a healthy pursuit and provides very good bonding time with the kids. With a little fore thought, a walk can turn into an adventure of the best kind. You can explore, hunt for things, discover a lot of the natural world and learn to appreciate the treasures of the earth that are there for us all for free. We thoroughly recommend you go for a walk as often as possible! Here are a few ideas to brighten up a walk and keep the kids interested, especially those who may have thought staying at home was a preferable option. The habit of walking will stay with them throughout their lives and they will thank you for introducing them to it.
Take a map
Get yourself an Ordnance Survey map and use it to plan your walk. Britain's countryside is very accessible with footpaths and bridleways, so it is easy to get off the road and walk in the countryside. Let the kids plan the walk and teach them to follow the Countryside code.
Include a picnic
An idea for warmer weather - take food for a picnic. Get small manageable rucksacks for the kids and make up a light yet hearty picnic. Make individual packs so each can carry their own. Include a couple of treats and things to munch whilst walking. Take water!
Look out for things
If you have a map, there will be special points of interest marked on it for you to spot and identify. Let the kids use their map reading skills to find the Iron age hill fort, stream, river, trig point, or any other feature that looks interesting on the map.
You might spot a fallen pine cone or interesting stone. If you are on the beach, it might be a shell. Collect, take home and find out exactly what everything is. Remember not to pick wild flowers. Follow the Countryside Code.
Great for older children and a good lead up to Duke of Edinburgh activities. You will need a map and a compass, with some instruction on how to use both. Either go together with the kids or parents could set a simple task for 2 or more older children to do a short hike unaided, and meet up with them a mile or so along the trail. Make sure you know exactly where they are going and that they have a mobile phone, with good reception, in case they do get lost or need to call for help.
Lay a trail along the way
Split your party into 2 groups, with 2 or more in each group. The first group goes ahead leaving a clear trail of their route, marked with a pile of stones or an arrow made from twigs to point the way. Have a 10-15 minute lead and the second group has to follow your trail and find you! Have a contingency plan for the second group getting lost, such as a rendezvous back at the starting place in one hour!
Walking games and songs
This is a great distraction for younger children whose legs are getting tired, especially if the going gets tough and there is some uphill to do. Make up a marching game that you all take part in. March for 10 steps, hop for 3, walk fast for 10. Vary the different types of walking and build in reward points, such as stopping for a drink next time you pass an oak tree, or giving a 5 pace swing. The latter is usually a favourite and can turn tears to squeals of glee. Keep spirits up by together singing a few rounds of a favourite song or nursery rhyme to march to, and for slightly older children perhaps have forfeits for anyone forgetting the words. Make sure it is Dad that has to do them!
Look at trees
Identify different types of tree. Did you know that 95% of all English Elms in the UK were wiped out in the 1980's because of a disease spread by a beetle? There was one type of English Elm that was resistant to the disease and now saplings of this variety are being replanted throughout the country. Many primary schools are helping with the project of replanting. Please let us know if your school is one of them. How many different deciduous trees can you find when you are out walking? Do you know how many species of pine trees there are?
Set some challenges for the kids to find things. Trees, animals, plants, farm things, there are loads of things to spot. The first one to spot a black sheep if you are hill walking, or a friesian cow if you near a dairy farm. Spot a foxglove in the hedgerow in Spring or now, early September look out for blackberries. To keep the kids on the case, build in a reward scheme when they find something interesting. Take some plastic bags to collect the blackberries, just in case you do find them, and teach the kids the difference between edible and poisonous fruits in the countryside.
Play Pooh sticks
If you cross some water over a bridge play pooh sticks. Pick up some twigs and at the count of 3 each of you drop your 'pooh stick' from the bridge into the water. See whose stick emerges from under the bridge first. Any fish around?
Take a Kite
Kites today are brilliant and great fun and come packed very small so are easy to carry about. Bring it out in the wide open spaces and see who can keep it flying for longest.
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