In praise of walks with kids

 What ways do you use to get kids to talk about stuff – homework, fun, what’s bothering them? People often use the school run for this – my favourite way with primary school students was to take a steady walk. What about bigger kids or even the ones in buggies? For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children see my book Homemade Kids www.nicolabaird.com

I loved the way this decorated tree can be a perfect hiding spot.

I loved the way this decorated tree can be a perfect hiding spot.

“Do you know what animals eat spiders?” asked the little boy to his mum as they passed in the street. Agog I waited for the answer – assuming it would be something crazy. Turned out to be birds… but the child on the pavement was very little, not long out of a buggy on the walk to school. As the family walked away I could hear the conversation was getting interesting – lots of stuff about the food chain.

Walking is a great way to spark conversation because you cannot help but see things that get people asking why and how questions, whatever their hunger levels or mood. And small people often see the most interesting things, probably because they are closer to the ground.

Why do people leave chicken bones on the ground?

Could I eat this dropped sweet?

Would an extinct sabre toothed tiger have walked down this road? Etc, etc

Graffiti in Portugal Street, near the Royal Courts of Justice, London.

Graffiti in Portugal Street, near the Royal Courts of Justice, London.

At the weekend I try and walk around bits of London which are low on shops, just to get a better sense of this big city.

Both my daughters, now nearly 13 and 15, tolerate this. In a way walking with their mum is an old habit. We spent eight years with the oldest, and 11 with the youngest rushing to and from school.  We also have a dog, but he prefers parks and grass. So when we leave him at home it’s signs of the city we are looking out for. Like this crazy grafitti (left).

Nell looking in the Cabinet of Jurisprudence - one of the eccentric displays at the Seven Stars pub. can you see the one-spectacled skull?

Nell looking in the Cabinet of Jurisprudence – one of the eccentric displays at the Seven Stars pub. can you see the one-spectacled skull?

Pub time machine
Another good spot are pubs – buildings that used to be pubs, re-named pubs and walks taking in as many pubs as possible. You don’t have to go in to get a sense of the atmosphere – hopefully this means these pub crawls aren’t too habit forming. It is a good way to think about the generations of people who’ve lived where we live, but maybe years before us.

Rules of Pub Cricket
Or just brush up on maths with the game pub cricket. Divide the street into left/right (or north/south as appropriate). Then when you see a pub sign count the legs relevant to it’s name. For example the Coach & Horses will have a lot (look at the sign), The Cock has two, The Duke’s Head none.  For older children set a challenge for each pub – so think of two famous people and ask if they could ever have drunk in that pub (eg, Dickens and Hardy) at the same time? Be led by your children’s choices of celebrity to make it a bit less worthy.

Strange structures by Pentonville Prison - possibly an echo of cattle stalls or maybe disused gardens. Or are they seaside posts?

Strange structures by Pentonville Prison – possibly an echo of cattle stalls or maybe disused gardens. Or are they seaside posts? It turned a walk into a mini Stonehenge exploration…

Be inventive
Sometimes it’s hard to know what you are looking at. If that’s the case – a strange shaped rock, a huge excavation or odd wooden structures (see pic above) it’s a chance to get older kids to search their Mind Palace (borrowing a useful Sherlock Holmes tool) and come up with an answer. What is it supposed to be?

Nell's friend looking through the pix he took during our walk.

Nell’s friend looking through the pix he took during our walk.

Taking photos of what they see is another brilliant way to keep a child’s interest in a walk. But be prepared to take over their equipment if they are tempted to do something that might damage it, like climb a tree.

Over to you
Do you walk regularly with your children – whatever the weather? Do you find it a good way to keep them talking to you, whatever their age?

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4 Comments on “In praise of walks with kids”


  1. My kids aren’t keen to go on walks usually but I went on an Instagram walk with my teen last year and she loved it. Instagramers organise walks all over the place and it really makes you look at things which you’d otherwise probably not notice.


  2. Hi Greta, an instagram walk sounds a lovely idea – another good one is geocaching where you locate a small treasure. Personally I find that this is too pressured for a walk just in case anyone is disappointed (errr that’ll be me!) because we cannot find the cache. Nicola

  3. KathrynH Says:

    Love the idea of an Instagram walk (esp to encourage eldest daughter). All our walks are rural as we live in the countryside but, Nicola, you have inspired me to take some more urban walks when we go to larger cities.


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