Can I make walks fun for my almost-six-year-old?
February 5, 2021 9:14 AM   Subscribe

I like to find ways to spend time with my almost-six-year-old that we both enjoy. During lockdown, a thing I really like is getting out of the house and going for a walk. That is boring for him unless we have a destination, but many of our destinations are unavailable. Do you have ways to make going for a walk fun for a little kid?

He likes going for a walk if, say, we are going to the bakery to get a treat. But I don't like to give him so many junk-food treats.

I've tried a few attempts to make walking into something more of a game (like - we roll dice or flip a coin when at a crossroads) but he is not so into it.

We live in Toronto, an an area where there are residential and commercial streets. Sometimes he likes looking in the windows of stores and stuff.

I like walking because - I like to get out of the house, like to get some exercise, like to see other humans. During lockdown it's really easy to spend all day inside not moving around.

(So, I guess, if you have other suggestions for getting outside and moving and seeing other humans, I welcome those. We do go to the park- he plays on the play structure, I stand around. Fun for him, less for me...)

He likes - Dinosaurs (mostly) and cats, and books, and snacks.

Any ideas welcome. Thanks!!
posted by ManInSuit to Human Relations (40 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe making a checklist or bingo card of things to look for on the walk - squirrels, red hats, blue cars, anything you can think of that you see frequently and/or less frequently? Like turn the walk into a scavenger hunt .
posted by jabes at 9:20 AM on February 5, 2021 [12 favorites]

Which area of Toronto? I might have specific recommendations.

We have been making FIMO fairies and gnomes and hiding them in spots for other people to find/take and my 10 year old is very into doing that patrol every day, seeing what we need to replace, etc. Another suggestion along these lines is painted rocks.

Taking a scooter (in better weather) always helped us at 6 years.

There’s Pokémon GO and whatever the Harry Potter one is, as a kind of nuclear option.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:24 AM on February 5, 2021 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe try geocaching?
posted by ShooBoo at 9:27 AM on February 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Geocaching!!

Basically a world-wide crowd-sourced treasure hunt! People hide things, publish the gps coordinates, and then other people find them! Caches (the "treasures" at the end) range from cool historical sites or landmarks and things you just may never have noticed in your city before, to literal boxes of little trinkets and things stashed in trees and under rocks along hiking trails. The general rule for these trinkets is "take something, leave something," which might be super fun for your kid.

Some caches are hidden at the end of long, arduous hikes in the wilderness, but some are "urban caches" in the middle of neighbourhood parks and or other public areas. The difficulty of the "finds" varies from some which have layers of clues and complex codes, to very simple "walk here and see the thing!" Lots of variety.

Requires some version of a gps, but in an area with good signal, the built-in GPS on your smartphone (if you have one) is probably enough. You do need to register with the website to access coordinates and clues, but it doesn't cost anything to do so.

My Dad is a geocaching nut, and alllllll of his grandchildren (ranging in age from 4-12) just ADORE going on treasure hunts with Grandpa.
posted by Dorinda at 9:28 AM on February 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Alphabet game. Look for something that starts with an A, then a B, then a C, etc. Alternatively, if there are signs/license plates, accept letters, especially for difficult-to-find letters.

Make guesses before you leave how many say, blue cars you'll see, or buses, or garbage trucks, or anything that varies.

Definitely try the bingo card/checklist idea. Make sure there are things you'll definitely see, and things you might or might not see. Also, scavenger hunt of either items to see, or tasks to do. (Even crazy things, like "see a holiday decoration from a different season" could go on the list.

Count steps. Have him guess how many steps it will take to get to a certain spot, then count them.

Imagine things, especially with missions or goals. A long seam down the sidewalk could be the tightrope you have to walk across between buildings, a high wall might be something you have to peek around to check if someone will catch you, tiles or bricks might need a "special code" to get past, etc.
posted by stormyteal at 9:33 AM on February 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

bug hunt.
physical challenge: get to a park or out doors area for rough and tumble. i used to take my kid on a residential street with lots of 1-3 ft retaining walls in front - balancing and jumping.
learn storytelling.
posted by j_curiouser at 9:35 AM on February 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

We used to take "penny walks" where each time you reach an intersection, you flip a coin to determine which direction you go from there (e.g., 1st flip = turn/straight; if turn, 2nd flip = left/right).
posted by davcoo at 9:35 AM on February 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Which area of Toronto? I might have specific recommendations.

We are around West-Queen-West and little Portugal (just north of the Gladstone Hotel)
posted by ManInSuit at 9:36 AM on February 5, 2021

Do you have alleyways, cut throughs, other 'secret' places? Lots of kids get into that aspect of urban exploration.

If you have any hospital or college campuses nearby, or even some office complexes, they are great for that kind of thing. On preview, hotel grounds and lobbies can also be a lot of fun.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:37 AM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I spy with my little eye... something small and red! or tall and brown! or ____ and ____! (From your surroundings) And then the other person has to guess the thing you are referring to. I used to get so bored of this game!! but my kids loved it when they were little.
posted by molasses at 9:47 AM on February 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Does he have a bike or scooter he might like riding with you walking?
posted by teremala at 9:50 AM on February 5, 2021

Depending on the kid, he might enjoy taking photos to get plants and animals identified as you walk.
posted by wintersweet at 9:52 AM on February 5, 2021

Counting contests: Take turns picking a thing to count (street cats, red hats, the letter P) and see who can count the most during your walk.

Taking pictures: let him take 3 pictures at every corner (or whatever), or pick some specific thing to photograph. Maybe if there's someone else you can show the pictures to, they can play "can you guess where I took this?"

Making maps: As you walk, he can draw the landmarks you pass, or you can write them down together and make a map together when you get home.
posted by trig at 9:52 AM on February 5, 2021

Was just coming in to make the same recommendation that wintersweet made.
posted by saladin at 9:58 AM on February 5, 2021

What about having some audiobooks with shorter stories to listen to on your phone and some Bluetooth headphones. Is the murmuring project still going? On bad weather days the PATH would be an option (you would have to TTC it to the Sheraton, though).
posted by saucysault at 10:00 AM on February 5, 2021

We are around West-Queen-West and little Portugal (just north of the Gladstone Hotel

Darn, I don't know that area as well as I'd like besides trips to the now-moved Curiosa. But maybe if you can find a point and shoot camera device he could document some of the street art (or anything else he likes) like the graffiti murals around Trinity-Bellwoods?

On a different tangent you could set up a little mini parkour course for him by looking for things that he can conquer on set walks like knee walls to walk on, things to jump over or from/to, etc.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:03 AM on February 5, 2021

If it's not too far a walk, you could make it out to the dinosaurs at Budapest Park on Lakeshore.

Look for articles about weird neighbourhood things (unusual houses and yard decor, public art) and go visit some of those.
posted by phlox at 10:06 AM on February 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Pokemon Go!

maybe let her take something like this.

It will give her something to do.
posted by WizKid at 10:06 AM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

we "make rainbows" with different things. For a longer walk/better challenge we do it with cars. The idea is you have to spot (in order) a red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple car. (We have to accept dark burgundy as purple most of the time...) we often add black (the leprechaun's pot); white for the cloud and gold for the gold in the pot at the end.

For a quick walk around the block we do it with flowers. Blue can be a challenge if there aren't rosemary bushes around!
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:14 AM on February 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I was going to suggest the Alphabet Game, because it's using the same tricks that you use to make long car trips pass more quickly. Do you have any favorites there you could re-use?
posted by wenestvedt at 10:20 AM on February 5, 2021

I have been using my phone to track walks with my 5 year old. We try to „draw“ shapes on the map. Right now we are walking the alphabet, one letter each day!
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 10:25 AM on February 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

My kids are happiest when they’re walking and making up stories at the same time. Frequently these involve space battles or Super Mario. I’ve taught them ‘yes and’ so they can take turns expanding the story.
posted by bq at 10:28 AM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Slow down, walk at his pace. Stop to look at anything that catches his fancy, talk about it and show excitement in it. Talk to him and really listen. Tell him stories and listen to his stories, tell him about when you were a kid and you'd go for walks with his grandparents. Make the walk time the time he has your full 100% attention.
posted by wwax at 10:33 AM on February 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

I was going to suggest scavenger hunt type games. Also, not sure how long your walks are, but walk to Trinity-Bellwoods and search for the white squirrel?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:40 AM on February 5, 2021

Best answer: Hello, I am you. This was my pre-pandemic post. Pokémon Go got my kid walking and biking when nothing else worked, though during the pandemic he came to like his razor scooter (he got so much better at scooter-ing after a winter of XC skiing!). He’s 8 now and still fights us on the way out the door almost every time, but once he’s out he magically forgets how awful walking is.
posted by Maarika at 10:49 AM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

My son is the exact same, would rather play with legos at home. Whereas I need to get out for sanity.

The bribe here is, he loves imagination talk so as we walk we pretend to be different characters in a story chatting as we go.

I also quite clearly tell him look we don’t always like all things but it’s something we do for the family because it makes other members happy.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:10 AM on February 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Nthing geocaching! We started with my kid when he was around that age and we had so much fun. We discovered that he enjoyed the "run wildly around and search" aspect while I enjoyed the "quietly search with a more focused approach" and between the two of us we found a lot of caches. Eventually we hid our own cache, and even during quarantine we get to peek out our window to see other geocachers searching for it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:10 AM on February 5, 2021

We got my kiddo a kid's sized hydration backpack (one from REI with a roomy interior) and we walk with that, a nice chunky magnifying glass, a sketch book, and twistable colored pencils (like these). We stop and draw every so often. This is useful on hikes and when we go to botanic gardens but also around the neighborhood. Also, he really likes to use his scooter and practice his cool tricks while I walk. For other reasons, we got him a kiddo fitbit thing that counts his steps (and you can set a vibrating reminder on it for things like going potty) and he loves getting to his step goal.

Also, I unabashedly bribe him: You have to use your body in order to earn screen time. That's just what it takes for me to survive pandemic parenting...
posted by adorap0621 at 11:17 AM on February 5, 2021

Would a walk to a far-away park (and then playing) satisfy you both?
posted by MangoNews at 11:31 AM on February 5, 2021

Best answer: My kids (6 and 9) aren't into walks around the neighbourhood unless we're going to do something such as playing in the snowbank near the arena. They both love "hiking" though so we will drive to a ravine or trail and then go for a walk there. I'll pack a thermos with a hot drink and some kind of snack so we can take a break halfway through. We bring stuff like our pocket knives, fire starter, mini microscope so that we can do things like examine interesting things we see or try to start a fire with the materials around us. Maybe you can drive down to High Park or South Humber Park and walk around there?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:31 AM on February 5, 2021

Best answer: We walk to the local little free libraries to see if there are any new books.
posted by lab.beetle at 12:09 PM on February 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Snacks you say?

It’s gonna be hard this time of year, but my kid started identifying blackberries around that age (and grapes, and plums, and pears) and basically started gleaning from a super young age. Now he can ID all sorts of edible plants that either he or I enjoy. All of our spring to fall walks end up with a snack haul, with a personal team record being 10 gallons of damson plums last summer.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:40 PM on February 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My 5 year old and I have a thing where we have decided that cats are “spies” engaged in a long running secret war against squirrels. We spend a lot of time looking for cats and squirrels, and hiding behind walls and hedges to ascertain the nature of their activities. We are often forced to turn sticks into swords for impromptu battles against garbage cans.
posted by chuke at 1:25 PM on February 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Get a bunch of those paint sample things that they have in Home Depot. Choose a few of them for each walk and try to match colors.
posted by sciencegeek at 1:41 PM on February 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

2nding the audio book suggestion. We started doing this during distance learning last spring and now my kids are addicted to audio books. Also it might sound antisocial for us all to be walking around with headphones on, but often my son just needs a minute or two of his book and then he stops it and wants to chat the rest of the walk.

Also mixing up the time of day of the walk helps for us, and letting him lead. Right now he loves safely walking in the dark with a flashlight, and seeing if he can find his way home.

Early on I tried scavenger hunts/themed walks but the only time they have really worked well for us was during a holiday, otherwise I got push back that it felt too much like school.
posted by snowymorninblues at 2:23 PM on February 5, 2021

I always liked walking but now that I have some plant ID skills, walks have become so much more interesting. I think it would be really great for more kids to develop an interest in nature. The same folks who made iNaturalist, which winterseet linked to, made Seek specifically for kids.
posted by bread-eater at 2:42 PM on February 5, 2021

The Toronto Discovery walks are lovely, lots of great stuff to see, and since the signs are getting a bit old, it can be a bit of a challenge to find them, which adds to the fun.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:33 PM on February 5, 2021

Nature journaling is a lot of fun with kids and there's definitely a lot to see in Toronto, even in winter, even for really little kids. They get to be an artist and a scientist. What's interesting is that you look for changes... Are the leaves changing colour? Just a bit? Okay, let's draw that... Do we have a crayon that's the right colour? And then the next week, oh look, the leaves have changed a bit more. What are the clouds like today? Wow! You saw a cardinal? We haven't seen one of those in a while... etc. It gets you out and moving but also helps make their own neighbourhood interesting.
This is a great book to get you started.
posted by bibliotropic at 7:06 PM on February 5, 2021

I live in a semi rural area in Wales, there isn't too much to see on our walk but I compile a checklist for our route and our 3.5 year old son ticks these off as we go. This may be a bit infantile for a 6 year old but I'll share it nonetheless, for anyone else in the thread looking for inspiration

First he has a checklist such as

A green rectangle (road sign)
A pink fish (there's a billboard for a fishery)
A red triangle (road sign)
And so on

I made the mistake of making this too vague the first time. For example: a square, a circle... and he had completed his list before we reached the end of our street!

I also bought him a kids camera, and he has a special mission each time to keep it fresh. Such as photographing a yellow flower, or photographing a blue car.
posted by mathewbrowne at 4:46 AM on February 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks!! These are amazing!! We went geocaching today for the first time and it was a great hit!! (We went to High Park, where there are lots of caches, so we could walk from one to the next. Around our own neighbourhood, the caches are, like, a mile from each other, which is too far for him if we're walking...)
posted by ManInSuit at 1:01 PM on February 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

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