Exploring nature is one of the most important activities you should do with your children. It can improve self-confidence, reduce stress and depression, helps with personal growth, increases physical fitness and builds your awareness and respect of the environment. I am short sighted and when I asked my optician how I can slow the deterioration of my sight, he recommended spending at least half an hour a day outdoors and staring into the distance without my glasses. Being outdoors does so much for people of any age that there is no negatives to giving it a try.
Walking in local parks, woodlands, beaches etc. is a relatively safe activity to participate in but accidents can happen, so it is always best to know what to do and how to keep safe. Walking with young children adds extra worry and extra dangers, so read my tips below so you are more prepared. Preparation is key if you are planning on exploring somewhere new or somewhere that could be classed as high risk.
Check the Weather Forecast:
When you are planning to go out for more than an hour, take a few minutes to check the local Weather forecast. We have all been outdoors in beaming hot sunlight one moment then hail stones the next, which is the norm for Britain. You want to make sure your children and yourself are prepared for all weather conditions. If it is going to be a hot day or you will be spending a lot of time in direct sunlight make sure you take sun cream and wear sun hats. If anyone starts to overheat, find shade immediately, remove excess clothing, drink fluids and pour water over the affected person as this will help them cool quickly. This advice goes for dogs too. If walking in the summer months try to stick to the cooler hours of the day, go before 11am and after 3pm. If someone gets too cold, for example falls into cold water, immediately remove any wet clothing and keep the person close to you so they can feel your body heat. Getting to a vehicle or building as quick as possible and turning the heating on as well as drinking a warm drink will help prevent hypothermia. With small children it is vitally important that you keep spare clothes on you whilst walking just in case this kind of scenario happens.
Along with the weather forecast another thing which you need to take a few minutes to check, if you are heading to the coast, is the tide times. I have been caught out by the tide on a few occasions which could have easily ended differently. RNLI rescued 1244 people in 2014 in Wales alone, many of these were due to people not knowing the risk that the tide brings. If the tide starts coming in, make sure you are near an exit point, if you are stranded call 999 immediately.
I highly advice that you always keep a fully charged mobile phone on you. With signals being as good as they are now you are likely to be able to call for help in most areas. But don’t just rely on a mobile phone, always tell someone where you are going and what time you plan to be back, especially if the areas that you are visiting are off the beaten track and are less likely to have regular passers-by. If I plan to be out with just the children then I would get my mother or partner to call me at a certain time to make sure everything is ok. A whistle is a piece of equipment which I highly recommend you keep in your bag. A small child is able to use it to attract attention, if the parent has a fall and is unable to get assistance.
Know your child’s walking limit and your fitness level:
If you are new to walking then your children are likely to be too. Don’t set out to walk a 10 mile hike if you normally use the pram to get to the local shop. Start off with small 15-20 minute walks and build up each time you go. Take a carrier or a pram with you just in case your little one gets tired. We often take our sons trike with us as he can sit on it when he is tired or we can push it easily whilst he walks. Make walks exciting and fun and your child is more likely to enjoy it and want to do it again.
What clothing should your child wear?
Checking the weather forecast before you leave will tell you the appropriate clothing your child should be wearing. Packing a spare clothes bag in the car is so important when out walking, if there are puddles about I guarantee your little one will soon be jumping in the largest dirtiest puddles that they can find. Don’t dress your children in expensive, nice clothes as the best part of exploring in nature is getting your hands, feet, face and any other part of you dirty. Children should be wearing wellies or a good pair or walking boots to keep their feet protected. If you are exploring a woodland then a pair of walking trousers is best. If the weather is hot then get a thin pair of trousers and a light long sleeve top as there will be plants that will be prickly or spikey that a child could easily hurt themselves on. We all know how irritating stinging nettles are, so wearing long trousers and long sleeved tops will prevent your child suffering with this irritation. If you are walking in a park or at the beach then a short sleeved top and a pair of shorts would be adequate. For the colder months it is worth investing in some good quality waterproofs as this means you can get out most days and you don’t have to worry about the children getting too cold. In the cooler months layering is best as you can always remove layers if the child gets too warm.
Food and Drink:
However long or short your walk is I highly recommend you take drinking bottles filled with a soft drink (preferably water). Staying hydrated is vitally important in all weather conditions. If we are going for a walk that lasts more than an hour we take snacks or a packed lunch with us. We also pack antibacterial hand wash and baby wipes as children’s hands will get dirty from picking up sticks etc. Eating whilst out walking will keep energy levels up.
Respect wild or domestic animals:
The natural environment is occupied and visited by many different animals. Respect must be given to any animal which you come across whether it is a bird, a fox, a cow or someone walking their dog. Never approach any animal that you don’t know, give the animal space when passing and keep quiet. If you are passing cattle and they start to follow, remain at a slow pace and walk to your nearest exit. Never allow children to chase or shout at any animal, this includes birds which they come across in town or city centres.
List of useful pieces of equipment to take out with you:
Spare clothes (especially socks)
Water bottle and snacks
Money (change for parking)
Coats (Weather dependent)
Gloves, scarves and hats
Torch (If walking near dusk)
Flask of tea/coffee/soup
Antibacterial hand wash
If you do get into a situation where you require assistance then call 999 who will put you in touch with a rescue team. If you find yourself without a phone or a signal then Mountain Rescue England and Wales advice that you stay exactly where you are and using your whistle blow six times and repeat every minute. If it is after dark then use a torch, flash the torch six times and repeat every minute.