Bush walking and I have had a complex relationship. My feelings towards it have changed many times.
There were times where I hated anything that felt like exercise and made me break a sweat. And times where the sheer difficulty of getting babies and toddlers ready for the walk, only to have them need to be carried most of the time didn’t seem worth it.
But I have fond memories of bush walking as a child. I remember being allowed to roam in the patch of bush land across the road from my house. I remember the thrill of exploring along a narrow, barely-there path, never knowing what might be around the next corner.
And I remember bush walks with my class at school – getting to explore the “nature area” and hoping to see a wild animal.
Over time, I have come to love the way exercise makes me feel, right down to the racing heart and breaking a sweat. But more than that, I love the way getting out in the bush refreshes me and the sense of accomplishment I feel after conquering a new track or a big hill.
Bush walking with my kids has come with it’s own challenges, but the benefits to all of us are so great that we keep going.
Keep reading if you want to be encouraged to make bush walking a regular part of your life. Over the years I’ve picked up some great tips for making bush walking with kids fun and manageable.
The benefits of bush walking
There are many benefits to getting out in the bush with your kids.
The bush gives kids the opportunity to explore and discover new things, in a way that’s somewhat controlled (because you’re there with them), but also wild and unrestrained. They can learn for themselves how to manoeuvre across a rocky path, how to balance on a log, and how to avoid a spiky bush. There will be cuts and scrapes, but this is an important part of their development. It’s good for kids to experience the rough and natural environment of the bush.
Being out in the bush also calls our attention to the wonder of God’s design and creativity; it leads us to praise Him and tell our children about Him.
In the bush, we can see every plant and every creature working and doing what God created it to do. From the hardy plants, designed to withstand heat and frost alike, to the row of tiny ants, searching for food, carrying, building, digging, and defending.
We see the effects of sin and death in the black raven picking apart a kangaroo carcass.
And God’s story of redemption is there, too, in the bright green shoot springing out of a scorched tree trunk. Death and resurrection. The “shoot that will spring forth from the stump of Jesse”.
In the bush, there are countless opportunities to tell our kids about God’s big story – what he has done and what he is doing in the world.
Bush walking with kids
Getting out into the bush with kids will be a different experience at each stage of childhood. At this stage, I enjoy having the space for my 3 kids to run around and burn off energy.
At one time, I had a particular toddler who was very hands-on with other kids. There were many months where I had to hover over him at the playground, coaching, encouraging and disciplining him in how to play nicely with other children. It was necessary but exhausting work.
At that time, I especially appreciated getting out into the bush, away from other people, where I could be a bit more hands-off. I didn’t need to hover so much because there were no other children at risk.
One thing to consider if you have a young child who is a “runner” is to either choose a walking track that doesn’t have cliffs or water nearby, OR get one of those toddler harness backpacks so you can walk and feel confident your toddler is not going to run over a cliff. This would be a good idea if you have much older children as well who would appreciate a more challenging walk.
The good thing about bush walking is that there is a track for every stage of life and level of fitness. In my local area, I know of a nice track that is entirely wheelchair and pram friendly.
The bush is for everyone!
The most important part of having a good time on your bush walk is your attitude. You can’t control your kids’ attitudes, but you can set the example.
It’s important to know that while you might plan how the bush walk will go, things can change.
Someone might need urgent medical help, meaning you all have to turn back and head for the car right away. The track you were planning to walk might be closed.
Be flexible and have a positive attitude so you can roll with any changes that need to happen.
There are a range of different activities you can do that might fit under the umbrella of “bush walking”, and this will determine the amount of preparation you need to do.
For example, I like to take the kids for a short walk and play after school sometimes at a local nature reserve. For this kind of bush walk, I would just make sure to bring food and water. The terrain is not very steep or rough, and the walk is not very long.
For a longer walk, which we might do as a family on the weekend, we would pack sunscreen and hats, food and water, and make sure we have appropriate shoes and clothing.
You can change this list to suit the type of bush walk you are doing, but here is a standard list of things you might need to bring or do in preparation:
- Water bottles
- Walking shoes
- Light jacket or jumper
- Look up a map of the walking track
- Medical supplies – lip balm, pawpaw ointment, bandaids, Panadol, throat lozenges, tissues.
- Baby carrier, nappy supplies, changing mat
- Plastic bag for dirty shoes at the end
- Change of clothes for young kids (leave in the car)
Want to print off a copy of this list so you have it handy next time? Just enter your email here:
What to do on the walk
This might sound like an obvious thing to talk about, I mean, you just walk, right?
Well, yes, you can just walk!
But I’ve found there’s a difference between walking with other adults and walking with kids. When you’re doing a bush walk with adults, you tend to move at a steady pace, just walking along the track until you reach the end (or find somewhere to sit and eat).
There’s nothing wrong with this! I quite enjoy a brisk pace when I’m bush walking alone with my husband.
But it’s helpful to adjust your expectations for bush walking with kids. It’s much less steady, with more stopping to look at things, to have a drink, or to do a bush wee. #boymum
So I thought it would be worth talking about all the things you can do to enrich your walk. This can help you make the most of all the stopping and starting and talking that happens with kids, rather than feeling frustrated by it.
When you go for your walk you can:
- Look out for wildlife. My kids and I love to keep track of all the different native animals we’ve seen on various bush walks. Kangaroos are very common around here, but still exciting. We’ve also seen echidnas, skinks, water dragons, a long-necked turtle, kookaburras and one cheeky baby wombat, which was chasing a rabbit. Our next goal is to see a snake in the wild! Sign up in that box above ^ to get my free wildlife spotting log sheet – you can keep a record of which animals you see, and when.
- Identify plants. My friend, Larteasha, told me she loves to go bushwalking with her little girls. She says, “We love love love bushwalking! It’s one of our favourite things to do! We love to take photos of the most random things and then look them up on this app we have that tells us what type of plant they are!” There are so many different plants in the Australian bush – so stopping to look and identify them can be a great discussion point as you walk.
- Bible memorization. Take the time on your bush walk to teach your kids some Bible verses that talk about God’s glory in creation. You can do this formally by saying the verse a few words at a time and have them repeat after you. Or you can simply quote the whole verse, and over time they will learn it. Some great verses to meditate on while you walk through the bush are Job 12:7-10 “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.” And John 1:3 “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
- Bird spotting. This is similar to looking out for wildlife, but it’s a bit more complex. Bird spotting involves not just looking for the bird, but also listening and trying to identify birds by their unique call. This is probably better for older kids, but you can still teach young kids some basic and easy-to-identify bird calls like the kookaburra, the koel and the bell bird. When they start to correctly identify bird calls, you can build on that excitement and teach them some more!
Making it work for you
The best advice I have if you want to get into the bush with your kids more, is to find a way to make it work for your family.
Persevere, make it a habit, and figure out your own favourite walking tracks and ways to enjoy the bush. Discover what your family enjoys the most. Maybe you will prefer more flat walking tracks, with plenty of sun. Or perhaps a steep, challenging hike.
The only way to find out is to get started!
Do you have any questions about bush walking with your kids?
Ask me in the comments!
If you want to turn bush walking into even more of an educational experience, I created this Bush Walking Adventure Journal. There are activities, log sheets and field reports that you can have your kids fill in after each bush walk.
This is a great way to get them to think through what they experienced and learn some things along the way. It’s only $3 and you can print off a copy for each of your children.
Learn more here.