Saturday 1 December 2012


Walking to the hollow tree.
My earliest memory is of a walk. I'm walking to playgroup, aged about 3, with my mum pushing my baby brother in a giant pram. At one point along the way there's a path lined by a row of tall trees and on one of the trees towards the end there's a huge fungus. As I remember it, I had a stick which I used to take with me especially to whack the fungus. Why this particular memory has stuck with me I'm not sure. I suppose we did the same walk over and over and the little rituals which grew up helped to cement it in my memory. I definitely regret that I don't remember some of the much more notable events in my life before that point! I also find it incredible that my entirely conscious children are probably only just coming to the age where they'll be able to recall what they experience now, when they're adults.

Going for a walk is free, healthy and hopefully fun. When the boys were little I read various bits of advice about encouraging them to be good walkers. Not in the sense of learning how to walk, but in terms of enjoying going for a walk and having the stamina to do it without lots of whinging or needing to be carried. I learned that with small children there is no point walking simply to reach a destination, you have to enjoy the walk itself. Not that there's anything wrong with having somewhere to aim for- knowing you get to feed a horse, or paddle in a stream, or see a tractor when you get where you're going, is a great motivator. However resisting the temptation to drag them on a route march, and being relaxed enough to go at their speed and appreciate all the millions of little things that catch their attention along the way, definitely makes it a more pleasurable experience for everyone. We quite regularly took the best part of half an hour to get to the end of our road (less than 200m). We had to:
1. Look down every drain to see if there was anything in there, and probably poke a stick or drop a stone in for good measure.
Inspecting a digger.
2. Be lifted up to see over at least three different neighbour's walls because they had quirky garden ornaments, a little fountain, a cat etc.
3. Check out the state of the chestnut tree in case it had conkers.
4. Balance along the kerb where the pavement ends.
5. Inspect any creatures we might find along the way.
6. Pick up pretty much anything that happened to be lying on the pavement or in the gutter (Danny has a vast collection of hair bands, clips and bobbles that he's amassed over time!)
Plus, if we were lucky we would encounter someone doing something interesting- someone from the council mowing or hedge-trimming, someone washing their car, the road sweeping machine going by, builders putting up scaffolding; and on a really good day, the drain blasters or roadwork men. The boys were always very happy to interrogate any unsuspecting workman about what exactly it was they were doing and WHY? And already, the walk had become an adventure, without actually getting out of sight of the back gate.

Sliding into the leaf-filled hole.
Whilst walking in an urban area often provides lots of interesting humans to watch, where we live we are usually trying to get out into the country for a bit of nature appreciation. Different walks give different joys. Walking through woodland is a totally different experience from climbing up a  high hill on a windy day.
Combine-spotting in summer.
 I love it that the boys get a feeling for the passing year and its seasons when they're out on a walk. I mentioned the conker tree. Whether it's bare branches, the new bright-green leaves, the spike of blossoms, the first prickly cases visible high up, or the arrival of conker treasure after a windy day, the boys definitely use it as a measure of where we are in the year. We also walk to see the daffodils on the rec, ("It must be SPRING!") trek across the fields to see the combine harvester in action every summer, and have a favourite Autumn walk to a clump of beech trees which surround a massive hole that fills up with fallen leaves.

As well as getting an understanding of the changing seasons, children can pick up all sorts of knowledge about nature from a walk in the countryside.  Looking for acorns, fircones or conkers as well as comparing different leaf shapes helps them learn how to identify some of our native trees. Watching birds and describing their colour or size, and talking about the way they fly or the sound they make, helps children to recognise the more familiar ones for themselves. The boys are pretty reliable about knowing a sparrow from a swallow, a rook from a robin etc. They know the swallows make their nests out of mud in the roof of our end shed, and that rooks make big, messy stick nests. They know the call of a pigeon or the scream of swifts as they zoom overhead.
They can also name quite a few of the wildflowers and plants we encounter and are well able to look out for stingers and to find a doc leaf  (or doctor leaf as Danny calls them) if they get too close.
Blowing dandelion clocks to tell the time or throwing sycamore seeds to see them spinning like helicopters is a fun way to show how some plants can spread their seeds on the wind; whilst throwing goose-grass or sticky burrs at each other so they latch on to your clothes shows a different way they might spread.

Apart from taking your time and walking at toddler-speed whenever possible, my other advice for happy walks is to have a drink or snack available for moments when they really flag, and to have a little bag you can give them to collect treasures in. We do a walk in a local park that has a lake and waterfall at the end. Easy to get them there, not so easy to get them all the way back to the carpark! I've found that giving them a bag and challenging them to find eg 10 feathers, 6 different shaped leaves etc helps distract them from the long trudge home, plus you can bribe them with a reward if they succeed (if you aren't averse to a bit of bribery!)

So if you're stuck for something to do and want to get them out of the house without spending any cash, wrap up and go for a wander about- who knows what you might find!


  1. what a really lovely post and some fantastic adventures!!

    Thanks for linking up with #ActiveFamily xx

    1. Thanks Jaime. We're off on a special rhododendron walk today, hoping to see lots of lovely colours. x

  2. I love this, so many practical tips for making a country walk fun. I have very early Country walk memories too so they must have made an impression on us both.

    1. Thank you. I feel really grateful that the boys enjoy walking and actually ask to go for a walk, it gets me out of the house!!

  3. Lovely post summing up a walk with children perfectly. We used to do the same with the dandelions and the sticky burrs when we were younger, brings back some great memories of my childhood reading this.

    1. Thank you for your comment. My younger son suddenly waved a buttercup at me yesterday and insisted I check under his chin to see if he likes butter. I love all those little traditions.

  4. In my country there is no place for you to walk safely like this. I appreciate the opportunity here to do that and I make sure that whenever we can we go out and experience outdoors so that my son can experience what I hadnt when I was a child> know nature. you are right that they learn when they walk too. #LetsKidsBeKids

    1. I'm so grateful we can go for long walks here. It would be so much harder bringing up my kids in a confined space! We had a lovely sunny walk and a picnic yesterday in a field full of lambs- life doesn't get much better!

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  6. I have very fond memories of taking my eldest for walks down the little lane near our house to watch "Choos 'nair" (Trains there! - he had glue ear!!!) with his little rabbit backpack on which was always filled with his favourite wooden trains. Our cat would always follow us too!

  7. Walking is one of the best outdoor activities I like to do with my kids. There are so many things you can do on a walk and such a variety of places to go.
    Great tips.
    Thanks for linking #LetKidsBeKids

  8. What a lovely post. We love our family walks and I think its one way for the kids to get out an explore freely. Love it :)