One of my favorite things to do is go on a walk. We are fortunate to live in an exceptional area, where the beach and the countryside are minutes from our front door. Papa and I are both avid walkers, and from the time C was born, we included her on our walks. But no matter your environment, how should you go about teaching your child to love going on a walk? I will give you some tips about walking with your baby or toddler in this article. Some of them are my own and others have been adapted from the Popi Parents magazine from October 2020 by Bayard Jeunesse.
Before we head off, make yourself a cup of coffee to go!
The great outdoors: tips on how to enjoy going on a walk with your baby or toddler
If, like me, you’re basically a hobbit, then you are surely eager to transmit your love of walking to your baby or toddler. While you may not be able to keep up your normal walking routine when your baby is born, you can slowly build up to longer and more difficult walks. Here below are some tips on how to get started.
Timing is everything
You need to feel ready to go on a walk with your child. In other words, don’t leave the house feeling like you “have to do it.” You need to want to do it!
When C was a newborn, I sometimes took her on walks so both of us could get some air. The point was for her to see and experience the outdoors.
Sometimes, however, the point was to get her to calm down! If she was fussy indoors, I sometimes mitigated that stress by putting her in the bassinet attachment of our stroller. She would then fall asleep after a short walk.
Later, I began carrying her in a sling. I noticed that she tended to fall asleep every time. So my suggestion is, if it’s also the case for your baby, that you go on a walk when you’d like your baby to sleep. This worked great for us when C was still taking a nap in the morning; I walked my dog while enjoying the outdoors, and C calmly slept against me.
If you have a toddler, use the same rule of thumb. Aim to go on a walk when you know your child’s energy is at its peak during the day. For us, it’s in the morning, or right after a nap.
There really is nothing worse than trying to drag an already sleepy child out for a walk! Trust me, it will not be an enjoyable experience for anyone, and that would be counterproductive.
Also, prepare your route beforehand:
Can you do a loop?
Or will you go in one direction and double back towards your home?
How long will it take you with a baby or toddler in tow?
Knowing these more or less in advance will make it a walk in the park!
Adapt to your child’s development
This is another obvious one: of course you need to adapt your walk to your child’s development.
If you have a baby who does not walk yet, you need to devise a way to carry him, either in a stroller or in a sling.
If your baby has just begun to walk, he will be able to start the walk on his own. But beware! Toddlers who are still learning to walk tire out very quickly. In order to finish your walk, you may need to carry him part of the way. So bring your stroller or sling with you.
If your toddler is older and has been walking confidently for a while, you can leave your stroller and sling at home! But think about readapting your route again so that it’s still short enough for your toddler to complete.
Offer diverse opportunities during your walk
Going for a walk can offer so much more than simply walking. Don’t miss out on sharing with your baby or toddler everything a walk has to offer.
There’s the whole sensory experience:
the feel of the sun, rain, or wind
the smells of leaves, freshly mown grass, or new flowers
the sounds of the bubbling stream, the cry of the gulls, or even the hustle-bustle of a city
the sights of a faraway mountain, the changing fields, or tall skyscrapers
And, my favorites, the opportunities to observe animals, whether domestic or wild, and speak to people! C especially enjoys calling on all our neighbors in the village. We are cultivating an appreciation for our furry friends as well as a strong sense of community and openness.
But your child is also developing his gross motor skills during a walk such as coordination and balance. Consider exploring different textures on the ground to walk on: grass, sand, packed earth, cement, asphalt. Where possible, you could also seek out inclines, hills, or steps.
There are also items you can bring to enrich the experience:
A child-size backpack with one or two light things inside such as a snack
Field guides to observe and name local flora and fauna
A children’s camera so he can take photographs of what he encounters on the walk
Get creative if you want! But you don’t have to make every walk one in which you are carrying a lot of things with you. Sometimes, it’s nice to *just* walk and to let your child enjoy that simple experience.
Model your love for walking to your child
So, what do you do if you have a child who doesn’t seem to like walking?
Please don’t do that. Your child is not a dog! Do not tempt him with treats so he’ll walk farther.
There’s a time and place for enjoying a snack on a walk. You can motivate by stressing the walking goal: “Once we get to the top of the hill, we’ll have a seat and enjoy our snack,” not “C’mon let’s go for a walk! I’ll give you a snack if you get to the top of the hill!”
There’s a fine line. I hope I’m making myself clear where it is.
There are some little tips to keep the walk interesting if you sense your child is losing interest mid-walk:
Take a break to point out some interesting flora or fauna
Designate landmarks as little progress checkpoints
Collect leaves, sticks, or stones
Once, C was losing motivation and suddenly noticed a drain in the road. You know, like a manhole. I taught her the word for it (Drain, ok? Not manhole) and asked if she could find any others. Well, wouldn’t you know—her little feet carried her all the way home counting drains!
I think the biggest tip to keep in mind for enjoying a walk with your baby or toddler is this: model the desired behavior for your child. If you love walking, step out your door modeling that love. Your baby or toddler will pick up on that. Give him a reason to love walking rather than risk forcing him to do something he doesn’t like and thereby creating a negative association with walking.
Before you go outside: tips for preparing your walk with a baby or toddler
Dress your baby or toddler in layers
Obviously, pay attention to weather as you are getting your baby or toddler dressed to go out. Layers are always best as you can carry a coat for your child if he gets too hot.
For a baby in a stroller, dress him warmly, as he will remain essentially stationary.
For a baby in a sling, you can dress him lightly, because your body heat will keep him warm.
Rain gear may be appropriate! And don’t forget scarves and hats. In my experience, gloves and mittens are useless because my child just takes them off. But you know best.
My best walking gear recommendation for either muddy, wet conditions or a baby who walks but still tends to fall down a lot: the mud pants. (not affiliated)
They’re sort of like snow pants, the kind you used to don when going out to sled. But they’re not as warm. You put them on over your toddler’s regular clothes and they can get as muddy as they want!
My daughter also really enjoys choosing her hats and putting on her sunglasses herself!
As your toddler’s legs, feet, and gross motor skills are still developing, it’s important to choose the right shoes! They should be sturdy with a comfortable sole. And make sure they are not too big or too small.
Pack the essentials
If you’re going on a short walk around your home, you shouldn’t need to bring much.
But maybe you are planning a proper hike and will carry everything you need with you:
A clean diaper, wet wipes, and a bag for the soiled diaper
Food or snacks
Extra layers of clothes
First aid kit
Tips for walking with babies and toddlers in France
Since France is my backyard, here is what I know about kid-friendly hiking here. I suggest a quick Google search for trails in your area which might be better suited for you.
On the other hand, if you come to France, now you can prepare your walk with your baby or toddler!
Sylvie Courlivant is the blogger behind “Hikes for Young and Old.” She writes about the trails she walks, not only all over France, but in Spain and South Africa, too.
She has a lot of practical advice for each trail and in particular has resources for tourism in the area.
Sylvie has been hiking with her husband and two children since 1990. Her son is handicapped and she has succeeded in adapting their hikes to his ability and she has transmitted her love for hiking to him.
Let’s hit the trail!
Whether you are going for a walk around the block or going on an adventure, hopefully my article has given you lots of great tips on how to get started with a baby or toddler in tow!
We have really enjoyed our walks as a family and we have learned a lot along the way about how to best adapt our walks to our child.
If you want your child to love walking as much as you do, start early. Start when he’s still a baby! Cultivate an appreciation for going outside your house, around the neighborhood or in the great outdoors.
The best tip I can give you on how to motivate your toddler for a walk is to simply transmit all the pleasures of walking that you find, to him.
For further reading, check out my other articles here on Mamas Café Society:
Jessica is an American expat living the dream in Normandy. She is wife to a French hubby and mama to a Franco-American daughter, born in 2018, and one whippet. Passionate about all stages of writing, this Francophile created her blog in 2020 to help others navigate motherhood with a focus on conscious parenting and bilingual parenting. Bonne lecture !
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