A guide to birdwatching
How can you motivate your youngsters to pull on their boots and get going? Here are five ways to make hiking more fun for children:
Attempting to enthuse your children about the prospect of a family hike may be tricky; the thought of trundling about in the cold and wet isn't typically high on a child's agenda unless swings or ice cream are somehow incorporated into the proceedings. However, hiking can be a hugely enjoyable and beneficial activity; allowing you all to bond, discover new parts of the country and to get some exercise.
Really allow your kids to engage with their surroundings by incorporating nature into your hikes. There are so many ways to do this, you shouldn't have any problem finding something that's age appropriate. Perhaps draw up a check list on items you think you might spot; it could be anything from acorns to fox holes - whatever encourages them to look about themselves. You can tick items off as you come across them and perhaps even give them a little more information. Another idea is to take a children's bird /plant / butterfly book and encourage the kids to identify certain species when they see them. Really young children might be happy simply to find a leaf that is larger than their hand.
Avoid constant cries of "I'm hungry" by packing a supply of lightweight, energy-boosting snacks and drinks. Nuts, raisins and dried or fresh fruit are always a winner, if not home-made energy bars. River Cottage has a great recipe filled with natural goodness or there are any number of alternatives available in the supermarkets. If you're happy for them to have a little 'bad' sugar, then Kendal Mint Cake is the classic hiking energy booster. The children can then run off any resultant sugar rush. Hopefully.
To wash it all down, there's nothing better than plain old water. However, carrying numerous bottles can weigh you down, so avoid aluminium flasks and get the kids excited about drinking Adam's Ale by using some interesting collapsible water bags, such as the Platypus range - these are flexible, sturdy and plastic, plus they roll up when empty and weight next to nothing. The kids are sure to enjoy drinking from such a strange container.
What's more exciting than doing something totally removed from your normal routine and going out at night? Surprise the children at the weekend by getting them ready for a hike in the evening. You'll need torches and perhaps some hot drinks, plus it's sensible to pick a route that isn't too perilous to avoid any trips. Alternatively, a quick search on the internet might return several organised children's night hikes - the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) runs such events periodically across their sites, in which the kids could see bats and other nocturnal wildlife. Plenty of the UK's national parks also run night walks, many on a theme, such as 'Fright Nights' for Halloween.
Comfort is paramount, of course and if you're going to force your children over tors and crags, then they ought to have the right footwear and clothing that can cope with the elements. However, that doesn't mean buying the clunkiest, most practical gear in the shop; instead, get something that will make themwant to hike with you, such as a pretty coloured / camouflage-printed waterproof hiking jacket? Kids love the little details, so finding one that incorporates hidden pouches and pockets is sure to be a winner. Let them choose a funky, fleece-lined hat to keep their heads warm. If nothing else works, consider equipping them with the latest gadgetry, such as a Nite Ize Ziplit Light to both illuminate the way and keep your child clearly seen or with a GPS so that they can track where you're going and how many miles you've covered.
As any parent will attest, children have an exceptionally short attention span and being outdoors offers no respite. If you want to avoid the inevitable cries of: "I want to go home", then make sure you keep your hikes fun and not a chore. Limit the hikes to a distance that is appropriate for little legs so that they don't get tired out too quickly. Let older kids plan and lead the hike, perhaps. Look out for unexpected things to talk about and explore - fallen trees, a deer running through the forest, a clump of bright fungi. Bring paper and crayons so you can all draw elements from the hike. Best of all, bring a fully-charged camera so that you can capture the fun you're having.
Hiking is wonderful exercise for the entire family and being able to enjoy this activity will bring far more benefits than simply getting the blood pumping - you could create wonderful adventures that they will never forget.