Enjoy the mountains with your children

Ruby Wood very happy at the summit cRayWood

Andy Says son enjoying a break

Libby Worthington enjoying a rest at the summit

Chris Williams 2 year old daughter on Foel Lus

Ruby Wood enjoying the view cRayWood

Investigating the wildlife en route

John Cousins with Nellie and Lily
A positive mountain experience for young people can change the way they view the world and set them up for life. Plus they’ll probably remember it forever.

The true benefits of exploring the hills and mountains go much deeper than an appreciation for the environment and improved fitness (although these are also both valuable); the increased self-confidence, resilience and self-reliance that develops in young people will have a hugely positive impact on their development.

Make it a positive experience

It all starts with getting them outside and immersed in the mountain environment.

According to Visit Wales; ‘Walking up mountains with children is easy enough. You just need a fine day, plenty of time, a little patience and a lot of chocolate. You’ll also need a mountain, of course – and we’ve got lots of them. Kids need plenty of gentle encouragement on the way up, and lots of rest stops. On the way down, it’s usually the opposite: children tend to skip ahead, while adults suddenly realise that young knees are much better at going downhill than old knees (which makes the kids laugh, a lot).’

Motivate them

If you’re a seasoned walker, chances are you’ve learnt how to look after yourself in the mountains. Looking after children in the mountains is a whole new ball game and it all starts with motivation. If people are motivated (this definitely applies to adults too), half the battle has already been won.

Shane Swannick’s article ‘Enthusing kids to get outside’ is on the Get Out With The Kids website (a really useful bank of resources for all sorts of outdoor activities with children) and has this advice:

‘Unless they are actually a lover of the outdoors, most teenagers/young adults will not see just “going for a walk” as a good enough reason to actually have any enjoyment. In fact, that particular line is likely to cause alarming and negative grunts of disapproval from the intended walkee!’ Much better, especially with younger children, is to go “exploring” or have an “adventure”, anything other than “walking”.’

Stay safe

Going out in the mountains is an adventure and much can be gained from having adventures as a family. As a parent you are responsible for managing the risks involved in heading into the hills. The best way to tackle this is to make sure you know how to navigate, plan the day well, pack appropriately and change the plan if necessary. Where appropriate it’s important to involve the children in any safety-related decisions. By doing so you’re increasing their awareness of risk and how to manage it.

Nothing Ventured… Balancing risks and benefits in the outdoors is a report written by Tim Gill, of the English Outdoor Council, which highlights the importance of having adventures in the outdoors and not underestimating their abilities.

‘A mindset that is solely focused on safety does children and young people no favours. Far from keeping them safe from harm, it can deny them the very experiences that help them to learn how to handle the challenges that life may throw at them. There is an emerging consensus that our society has become too focused on reducing or eliminating risk in childhood. And research suggests that overprotecting children can lead to longer-term problems with mental health and well-being.’

What if you’ve got no idea how to read a map?

Go somewhere that doesn’t require any map reading skills. Anywhere with marked trails and/or signposts is a good place to start; managed forests, some coastal paths and public properties, all provide relatively straightforward walking opportunities that don’t require any map reading skills. Kids love being in charge and making them responsible for following the signs could be a great start to fostering their independence and decision making skills.

If you want to tackle something beyond your ability, it’s probably worth finding a friend who knows what they’re doing or paying an experienced leader to guide you. Our Find a Leader search facility is an easy way to find qualified and experienced leaders throughout the UK and Ireland.

The alternative is to upskill yourself, or the whole family, by doing a Hill or Mountain Skills course. These courses are designed for complete beginners or those with some walking experience who want to learn how to look after themselves and enjoy the hills. They’re also supported by Mountain Rescue.

Top tips from parents…

Kate Worthington, Winter Mountain Leader and mother of a five year old

  • Choose an engaging and achievable route with immediate interest and terrain near to the start point.
  • Create a story/challenge/treasure hunt to shape and inspire the journey.
  • Plentiful and healthy kiddie size snacks and drinks to keep energy and happy levels high!

John Cousins, Mountain Guide and father of two girls

  • Tell stories: My daughters have walked unaided for many hours, from as young as three or four, provided you can roll out an endless supply of stories. In our case it seems to be mostly sci fi movie scripts demanded in great detail! The tables have now turned, at age ten, and on our last ascent of The Cobbler I got a word for word account of Frozen, complete with renditions of every song at full volume.
  • Build up slowly and always be flexible about the plan: If you’re a regular hill walker you’ve learnt your skills over many years so don’t expect too much from the kids on day one. Mini hill walks with mini rucksacks, fun food on lots of mini breaks, mini obstacles and maxi fun. Make sure you give yourself lots of options to cut it short or change the journey and within whatever limits you set have some suitable bribes ready for the crux (we have lots of pepped up trail mix)

Andy Say, Mountaineering Instructor and father of two boys

  • Plenty of breaks with drinks and nibbles. Long periods of walking uphill in silence can bore the pants off me so it has to be a bit of a turn off for the kids as well. Breaks allow for a chat, a look at the fantastic scenery and a quick drink and some sneaky calorie intake. You can also see how far you have come since the last break so there is a sense of progress up that big mountain.
  • Involve the kids. Give them the map and the compass. Discuss where you are going and ask them to work out which path you are going to follow. So long as you know where you are, basic navigation with a properly ‘orientated’ map is pretty much child’s play. So let them play.
  • I also found Action Man very useful… And Jelly Babies are wonderful because they're a great energy booster and they don't freeze when it's cold.

Ray Wood, Mountain Leader and father of two girls

  • I've always found keeping Jelly Babies or Tic-Tacs as a reward for completing stages along the route maintains morale.
  • They have to be willing at the outset. Involving them in choosing the objective helps.
Days out in the hills with my kids are up there with my most memorable mountain days. Seeing the energy and sense of freedom they draw from the landscape is amazing. I guess they also learn that often the most rewarding experiences in life require a good deal of effort and money cannot buy.

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