Bushwalking is a great activity for children – exploring the natural world while burning energy, cheap and enjoyable for grown-ups too. This article offers practical advice for planning a great walk, including how to choose a child-friendly walk, equipment to consider (including baby back packs), and tips for introducing kids to the bush. You’ll also find ideas for keeping kids motivated, and helping to share the wonder of nature with a new generation. Read more about Walking with Kids.
This article offers practical advice on planning a great walk, including:
- choosing a child-friendly walk
- equipment to consider (including baby backpacks)
- tips for introducing kids to the bush
You'll also find ideas for keeping kids motivated, and sharing the wonder of nature with a new generation.
The key is to finish the walk before anyone is tired, hungry and cranky.
- up to 500 metres for very young walkers (pre-school)
- perhaps 2-3 kilometers if older children are fit and willing
Choose Grades 1-2
Green circle walks are ideal for beginners.
Grade 3 walks may suit a child who is used to longer or harder walking,
especially if the adult is familiar with the walk and comfortable controlling the kids near hazards.
Timing is crucial
Working with your child’s patterns is ideal
- Keep your toddler’s normal nap times
- Don’t force an early start with a sleepy teen
Pull out if health, mood or weather dictate.
Young children are;
- Far more susceptible to weather
- Less able to communicate when something is really wrong
Avoid walking on notably hot or cold days. Many kids won’t mind a little rain, but heavy rain is best avoided.
Expect to takes 2-3 times longer than notes suggest
This allows children to;
- enjoy the wonder of the bush
- explore safe caves, smell the wildflowers
- run to the tree up ahead, then back to you, and back to the tree...
When choosing a walk, here are some things to think about;
- An area you like - mountains, beach, your local scrub
- your genuine interest will be key in holding their interest.
- Free to run and explore in a hands-on manner
- wide trails, caves, beaches
- sensory walks are set up for this very purpose
- Minimise potential hazards,which may not have been considered in walk grades
- Unfenced cliffs, slippery surfaces, spiky plants, leeches and ticks
- Check tracknotes and user feedback for this helpful info
- Imagine your child’s perspective
- Rock steps may look like cliffs to your toddler
- Waist high scrub may block the view altogether
- Generally kids will find it easier to climb up than down.
Basic equipment becomes much more important
when walking with children.
- water (have more than enough)
- sun protection
- comfortable enclosed shoes
- layered clothing - consider a spare set if near water!
- Insect repellent - a day-saver in warm or humid weather
- personal medications
- a first aid kit
Help young and inexperienced kids to plan (including what to leave behind).
My preschoolers love to carry a pack of their own, but soon tire of it
- I usually keep their packs small and light, and leave room inside my pack to carry theirs.
Equipment for Littlest walkers
- Take more than you think you’ll need!
- Be sure to pack out all waste including wipes.
- Don’t forget the gel hand cleanser!
- Consider a well-fitted backpack seat for an infant (or toddler).
- Borrow one from a friend before buying.
Front carriers are more appropriate for children who cannot hold their head up for long periods of time, typically less than 8-10 months; wheelchair-accessible walks will be suitable for prams..
A few things to be aware of when carrying a child
- Children on the front tend to get very warm (be vigilant in summer months)
- Children in backpacks can get quite cool, and may require extra clothing at cooler times
- Be conscious of your extra height when carrying a child in a backpack (or on your shoulders!)
- Low hanging branches and rock overhangs in particular.
Toddlers will enjoy the variety of walking and being carried.
But when they start to ask to get in and out of the backpack persistently, it probably means they have had enough for today!
Check the forecast
Can your plans if the weather doesn’t look good (See ‘Be Extra-flexible' above)
Setting the pace
Let the slowest child set the pace (with encouragement!)
When there’s big differences in ability
- Split into groups can be wise
- 2 responsible adults in each group (front and rear)
- Wait regularly for the slower groups to catch up, perhaps at each intersection or landmark.
Ensure breaks are spent resting
Encourage walkers to sit, and little ones to stretch their legs.
Remind kids to drink plenty of water
Also help to monitor sun exposure and temperature
Avoid nagging, but ultimately an adult will need to be responsible
for the younger child’s well-being.
Teach young children to:
- stay visible, and responsible children to stay within earshot.
- stay on track (in order to stay found, and to minimise impact)
- respect park rules - picking flowers and lighting fires.
The bush presents a great interactive classroom, perfect for learning respect for the dangers of nature, and also care for fragile ecosystems.
Early complaints of ‘I’m tired’ usually come from boredom.
Having a few diversions up your sleeve can really extend the length of your walk…
- Set small, achievable goals
- ‘we will have something to eat when we get to the creek’.
- Share the map with the kids and show your progress.
- Point out things they might be interested in, typically:
- moving water
- rock scrambles
- seed pods
- Talk (or learn) about cloud formations and geological oddities - they may not hang on every word, but it really helps kids develop their interest.
- Other adults can boost motivation – at 2, our daughter would tackle any mountain if she could just hold Poppy’s hand!
- Younger children will welcome distractions such as:
- Singing songs together
- Counting anything (steps, rocks, signposts)
- Playing games like I-spy (for younger kids try ‘I-spy something that is red’).
Younger children like familiar areas; consider doing the same walk several times over a few months, especially as they are building confidence walking on uneven ground.
Plan to finish the walk while they still want more, and go on another one next week!