It’s pretty darn cold out there, mud everywhere, and there’s a chance it might rain… much easier, warmer and more comfortable to stay inside! Yet getting out for a walk is one of the few freedoms we’re able to enjoy during lockdown, and the physical and mental benefits of getting outside to stretch our legs and breathe some fresh air far outweigh the hassle of leaving the house.
I don’t know about your kids but if mine are confined to the house for the whole day, they’re literally bouncing off the walls and I’m tearing my hair out! That’s not to say there’s no resistance to the suggestion of a walk, there’s plenty of grumbling and groaning, and it takes an age to get out of the door, but it’s always worth the effort and we (almost) always have fun!
Without a doubt, getting out for some exercise reduces stress and anxiety levels, there’s less squabbling and generally we all sleep better. It’s a great way to spend time together, away from screens and can often be the time our girls open up about how they’re feeling.
There’s no shortage to places to go, either within walking distance or a short drive of Southfields and the surrounding areas …Wimbledon Park, King George’s Park, Wimbledon Common, Cannizaro Park, Wandsworth Common, Clapham Common, Tooting Common, Richmond Park, Bushy Park, Battersea Park, South Park Gardens, Wandsworth Park, the Thames Path, the Wandle trail… the list goes on.
However, I’ve learned the hard way to be prepared! Apart from piling on the layers and packing plenty of snacks, over the years I have built up an arsenal of activities that distract them from the actual walking, get them to engage with their surroundings and make the whole experience far more enjoyable for us all.
I have not reinvented the wheel, these are simple ideas that have been played for generations but I hope it provides a little inspiration to enhance the time you’re spending outdoors as a family.
Scavenger hunt – an oldie but a goodie, our girls still love playing this (they’re 10 & 8) and it can be adapted for any age. We don’t actually collect the items, just tick them off a list I prepare in advance, words or pictures, and anything goes… something red, a fungus, a robin, a silver birch, a spider’s web, Y-shaped stick or two magpies. However, it’s not necessary to prepare a list in advance, I sometimes just come up with things to find as we walk, and there’s always a treat when they’ve found them all, not above a bit of food bribery!
Mini beast or fairy hunt – great for younger children, who might enjoy poking around in search of creepy crawlies or evidence of fairies (or any other small creatures that take their fancy!) A magnifying glass is useful for this, plus a good dose of imagination. Could that hole be an entrance to a fairy’s home? Or that pool of water, a fairy bath? What’s hiding under this stone? How many little beasts can you spot?
Alphabet and counting games – work your way through the alphabet, either spotting things as you walk (warning: some letters are very hard to do this way!) or choose a topic, such as animals, items of clothing or sports. For very little ones, counting might be easier, each pick something you will see regularly on your walk…birds, yellow things, bikes…and see who can count 10 first.
Follow the leader – take turns to be leader and simply copy whatever the leader does… funny walks, dance moves, pretending to be different animals, however, I’ve drawn the line at cartwheels, more for my husband’s sake than mine!
Hide and seek – when they’re old enough to run ahead, send them off to hide within a sensible distance of the path and see if you can spot them before you pass.
Geocaching – we’ve yet to do this but look forward to giving it a go! It’s essentially a technology enabled treasure hunt, with caches hidden all over the UK. If this sounds like your kind of thing, here’s a link to a website with lots more details.
Climbing trees, splashing in muddy puddles and playing with sticks (never underestimate the power of a stick to entertain) all feature heavily on our walks too. The search for good climbing trees can keep our two going for well over an hour, finding a good walking stick, making a crown (bracken is good for this), building a den, playing pooh sticks, can all keep the whinging at bay for some time!
While walking is the perfect opportunity to have a break from technology, there are some apps that can come in handy when exploring nature, such as Chirpomatic for identifying birdsong, British Trees by the Woodland Trust for identifying species of tree, iRecord Butterflies to identify species and record sightings to support conservation efforts, Birdtrack by BTO for bird spotting and Go Jauntly for finding nature walks ...I know there will be many more, and of course, use your phone to capture all these happy moments on camera!
I would love to hear your ideas for keeping the kids entertained on a walk and any hidden gems of places to go. We're in this together. Stay safe, #theshoelady