Mapping the way to fun family walks

Walking is a cheap summer holiday activity – and it’s so good for everyone’s health. But many parents are put off even suggesting a family walk because they say the kids just aren’t interested. Worse still, parents report that their children moan, groan and drag their feet if forced to walk, which can be a real dampener for family outings.

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But there is one solution that could lead to more family walks. Simply hand the map and compass over to your kids and let them lead the way.

Kids can read maps

Map reading is not difficult once you have learned a few steps. The basics of map reading include identifying where you are on a map, taking a bearing from point A to B and then walking in that direction following the compass arrow.

You can learn more here: Ordnance Survey Free map reading booklet

Most kids really enjoy being able to read a map. Many pupils will learn about maps in school, so they might even teach you a thing or two. For example, my daughter pointed out a hanging valley on an OS map the other day.

Keep the walks short to start with and plot a route with plenty of A to B to C to D pointers. This keeps kids focused. If you have more than one child you could give them each a map and compass or tell them to take it in turns leading between different points.

A top tip is to use a larger-scale 1:25,000 OS Explorer map because this offers bigger features, although over a smaller area.

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What’s on the maps

Children also enjoy learning all the different symbols on a map. This useful link allows you to print out the symbols for different OS maps. When you’re out walking you can see how many of the features the kids can spot in real-life.

Why not take a symbols key with you? Then children can identify landmarks such as churches, hilltops, houses and fences as well as roads, paths, and the environment around them, including trees, forests, farmland and marsh.

Ordnance Survey maps also show the “lay of the land”, which is revealed through contour lines.  The basic lessons to learn about contour lines is the closer the contours are together, the steeper the hill. You can also identify valleys, slopes, land heights and hilltops by looking simply at contours.

Keep a photographic record

Many children have cameras on their mobile phones, or they could borrow a cheap family camera, so you could suggest that they take pictures as they walk. It’s fun to keep a record of the walk by taking photos of various features ( as well as the landscape and wildlife).

When you get back home, get your children to write up the walk and add photos.

Ordnance Survey also offers OS getamap, which allows you to add photos to saved routes that you have walked.

How long will it take?

Children like to know how far a walk will be and how long it will take. After all, they will be keen to know if they’ll be home in time for tea or a favourite TV programme!

Older children might like to use Naismith’s rule of walking time or a more modern form of working out how long a walk will take it to use on-line services such as OS getamap or mapmywalk.

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