Walking for Children
“Walking?” I hear “But that’s for old people.”
As a keen walker, I am often amazed how people believe this is a leisure pursuit for the middle-classes and the middle-aged. Do people really think walking is about wearing knee high socks and long shorts whilst bounding across the land with walking poles in an anorak, bursting with enthusiasm?
Walking, we’ve been told, has so many other benefits and they are connected to our mental-wellbeing as well as our physical needs. When my children were young and I had two dogs, walking was our main leisure activity. Clearly, they couldn’t manage more than a few miles, but the benefits they gained were massive. I hoped that this early introduction into the love of the outdoors was good grounding for their teenage well-being. Walking was free. Picnics were plentiful. Taking the time to sit by a quiet river in summer, paddling and floating boats was extremely important to me to ensure that nature was their best friend with their greatest memories. Walking for us was not restricted to the warmer months. Anyone with a dog will appreciate how this regular activity takes place in the rain and the cold as well. So in winter, we would drive out to a beach, drinking hot soup from a flask and enjoy running and spinning round in the wind. Hiking up hills to find wild pools in summer and climbing trees in springtime was adventures we enjoyed. And the rainy days? When you’re dressed and prepared for the rain, it’s not a problem splashing in puddles. Many country parks and woods have adequate paths to deal with this inconvenience.
My children learnt about nature. They understood the habitat of animals, the foxes, the deer, and the rabbits. They would see old bones and skulls from dead animals and I would point out the different teeth on the skulls. They learnt not to scream when they saw a dead mole on the path, but to look closely at it, its huge hands for digging, and its nose and understand how it was made to accept its life in darkness. The outdoors never became a chore, it became an adventure. A time to be free and wild and run against the weather, embrace the elements, understand the cloud formations and be mindful of their surroundings.
She span around, arms waving in the wind, huge smile and laughter
One day I took my niece out with me on one of our walks and she ran with wild anticipation, as though she were suddenly set free. She span around, arms waving in the wind, huge smile and laughter and as we continued and I found a deer skull on the ground, I explained the formations of it to her. She was deeply interested. She was nine, then. She climbed a tree (her first time) with my son and pulled off her wellies to paddle in the lake. When I drove her home, she told me she had loved every minute of it and that “My parents never do this. Can I come on one of your adventures again?” Her mother, however, complained she was wet and dirty when I returned her.
Children are being restricted to their gadgets and losing the ability to communicate outside of their virtual world. And that virtual world is tiny compared to the one outside their front door. So who is to blame and how can we change this? Yes, parents are to blame. If the parent doesn’t want to step outside, they won’t. This is leaned behavior and only parents who are prepared to make that initial effort is going to help the child enjoy the outdoors. Although parks are a great start – they are not the wild adventures.
Adventure is created. Ideas come from the free spirit or the childhood memories from within
Adventure is created. Ideas come from the free spirit or the childhood memories from within. As adults, we often forget ‘how’ to be adventurous, but it can be quickly re-leaned. Remember when you loved Christmas as a child? Then you become an adult and it becomes about partying, until you have your own children and suddenly we remember ‘the magic’ and try to reinstall that for a children’s sake. Adventure is the same. Remember conker fights? Making daisy chains, splashing in puddles, running along the edge of a blustery coastline against the wind, playing cricket in a country park? Lying in meadows, cloud watching. Simple, but effective.
Surrounded by mountains and with no-one around, I stripped naked in the sunshine and swam across the cold pool water. It was totally invigorating!
As an adult, I have a huge need to have that wild freedom. I’m not some vegan hippie who lives off the land, but on the edge of a town in a cul-der-sac, working with teenagers. Whenever I mention the outdoors to my students, their faces curdle. Asking whether they have any experience of the great outdoors, there’s always a “no”. Such a shame. I then give them tells of my adventures, and they listen with intrigue. They enjoy it, because it’s unfamiliar. They clearly think I’m some middle-aged thespian, especially when I tell them the story of my hard trek up a north Wales hillside in blistering heat to find a natural pool. Surrounded by mountains and with no-one around, I stripped naked in the sunshine and swam across the cold pool water. It was totally invigorating! That story is always worth the eye-popping stares.
Children we can work with. Teenagers? Now that’s a tougher nut to crack. So where do we start?