How to raise a walker

At this point, our 3 1/2 y.o. H is a pretty reasonable walker. She walks the 6-ish blocks to and from daycare four days a week and walks the scant mile between our house and Davis Square (where grandma lives) at least once a week, sometimes as many as four times a week. She frequently walks the half mile or so to our subway station, as well as frequent short jaunts to the park, the library or the swimming pool (it will be summer again someday, right?). These days she hardly even drives us crazy while doing it. She just walks along, sometimes holding a hand, sometimes running ahead a bit, generally not making us fear for her life at street crossings, and walking at a pretty decent clip. She took a ceremonial “last stroller ride” a few weeks ago, but she hasn’t used the stroller on any kind of regular basis in probably 5 or 6 months.

This doesn’t seem so remarkable to us. Lots of kids in our neighborhood walk. A lot. But my parents were just visiting and seemed rather impressed by it (and H, seeing an easy mark, convinced her grandpa she was tired and needed a ride on his shoulders to Davis…). I’ve also seen a few notes here and there in blogland of parents with older kids whose kids wouldn’t walk as far as a mile (maybe it’s an older kid thing?). So it got me wondering, how did we raise a walker (so far)? It’s not rocket science. The kid probably mostly just has to walk a lot, but anyone who’s ever tried to take a walk with, say, a two year old, (and actually get somewhere) knows that’s not necessarily as straightforward as it sounds. Here are a few tips and generalizations based our our broad and carefully selected sample set of one child. By all means, please add wisdom from your experience in the comments.

Step 1: Send child off with grandma, who won’t pick her up, hates carrying a stroller in and out of the apartment building, and has a lot of patience, shortly after child learns to walk. Really, grandma has been great for H’s walking prowess. She’s also been great at working with her on train riding skills. When she has H, she’s not in as much of a hurry as we are, and her patience really helped her to work with H on walking instead of just getting frustrated and chucking her in the stroller (which we’ve definitely been known to do).

Step 2: Keep an eye out for trips that might actually be easier without the stroller. Starting at barely age two, H was able to start making the three block walk to our neighborhood park, albeit very slowly. At some point, we noticed it was actually easier not to have to strap her in and instead let her walk. Sure, it took a while, but we were just going to the park anyway and she was having fun. If she got tired, she was still small enough, and the trip short enough that she could ride on one of our backs home. Soon we noticed more and more trips were easier with her on foot. First the library. Then the T station (which opened up a world of stroller-less outing options). Now she can get all the way to Davis Square, which as our nearest real commercial center, was the marker that let us ditch the stroller for good.

Step 3: Keep them moving but keep your cool. We went through a period where H would dawdle. A lot. It drove us crazy. After all, we’re not just out taking a stroll. Walking is a major form of transportation for us, and doing it not just at toddler pace, but at the pace of a toddler who has realized she has the power to drive her parents insane by walking even more slowly, well, let’s just say we had some outings that weren’t so much fun. Once she realized she could push buttons this way, any seasoned parents here know we were just adding further inspiration for even more dawdling. We finally wised up. Angela let H know that she was expected to keep moving forward at a good pace, and that after one warning, if she slowed again she would be picked up and carried, no questions. H really didn’t want to be picked up (the horror!), and since she stopped getting a rise out of us, she soon learned to keep moving. Now, clearly this one won’t work with a kid too big to carry, or a kid who doesn’t have a lot of motivation to do things him/herself, but that’s all the more reason to start them young. Most 2 year olds are small enough to carry 10-20 paces, and want to do everything by themselves, at least some of the time (though it’s true, H may be at one somewhat extreme end of that spectrum, but hey, we only promised a sample size of one!).

So, what are your tricks? What works to keep school age kids moving? How did you navigate the transition from stroller to foot?

About Nathan

Nathan is a postdoctoral research fellow in neuroscience. He thinks parenting is way more fun when you don't have to worry about car seats.
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10 Responses to How to raise a walker

  1. Lex says:

    We definitely found that the kids became less-eager walkers with age. We didn't even buy our twin stroller until our twins were nearly three years old. Before then, we either wore them or they walked, most of the time. Partially, for us, there is also a two-of-them thing. Taking just one kid, he'd likely walk along happily, but two of them can get each other going with the whining/moaning/"my feet hurt!" and it can become unbearable. Nearly all of our walks are in the 1-1.5 mile range, and at age 7, our twins will still sometimes hop in the wagon, or sit on the footrest of the double stroller (that their younger brothers are riding in), for some portion of the walk, though they do a fair amount of regular walking too (and have developed all sorts of games to make it more fun).

    We do a lot of hiking, and find that the kids will HAPPILY hike for 4 or more miles, but the walk to and from town does not motivate them in the same way. Our big kids–and now our three-year-old, too–nearly always ride their "run bikes" (we have the like-a-bike variety) when we're walking on city sidewalks. This also allows me to walk much faster, so it works for me (exercise! hooray!).

    But I am a huge fan of our stroller, and would never give it up until no one was riding in it at all anymore. I often bring it along as back-up, even if everyone does end up walking. The stroller represents freedom for me, much the way my bicycle-built-for-five does. I like knowing that I can put all four kids in it/on it, and make a run for home!

  2. Sor Cyress says:

    Having a place to walk *to* is crucial. The suburbia I grew up in has bike paths everywhere, but I still do most of my walking when going to visit the high school or go to work.

    We lived just over a mile from my high school, and I spent all four years walking to and from with some combination of my best friend, another friend, my little brother, bestfriend's little brother, and littlebrother's friend. Parents would express shock to my mother that she made us walk rather than drive us each day. My response whenever I heard of this was to laugh. Walking is good for you!

    Plus I got some ridiculously good bonding time in with the bestfriend or the littlebrother whenever it was just the two of us. So, for the older kidset, make 'em walk with friends, they can probably do so close to forever.

    ~Kat

  3. MamaVee says:

    I have a non walker. sigh.

    I think in a way the down side to "babywearing" is non walkers. I wore my daughter until I was too pregnant with my son to carry her. Then I strollered her. I gave away my double stroller a few months ago b/c my 6 year old still wanted to ride in it and would fight her brother for the best seat ( it was one of those double decker phil and ted things and they both wanted the front seat)

    I do wish I spent more time having her walk at an early age instead of strolling. But at the same time she was/is a high needs child and I learned early to pick my battles and since I enjoy walking fast I was happy to let her sit and chill while I powered through.

    I did notice being in NYC in Jan on a rainy weekend. She did complain a bit about walking and we gave her piggy banks here and there, but she did best walking to the restaurant holding an umbrella. It was a good 5 blocks and she walked no complaints when I was sure she was going to be very whiney about being wet and tired etc. She also all but begged to go to bed at bedtime after it all…

    My 3 yr old does not love walking as well. Wore him until he was alittle over 3 in the backpack. I miss the backpack sometimes when we have to walk over snowy mounds to the school bus. He strolls. He does like to bike. I wish I could find kids folding bikes- b/c I could get them to bike fairly far. Like in airports etc. Or we can take the bus to visit a friend however it's a good half mile- mile walk from bus to friends house and it's suburban house after house land and so it feels long. I think they'd revolt. I so wish I could load my Sorte on the front rack of the bus or even be assure of front racks and load their bikes on. Do you know the story with MBTA and frequency of bus bike racks? b/c if I could load the kids bike on- that would really rock.

    Anyway- I'm working on it. I am a walker. But I "family bike" mostly b/c my kids hate walking and I'd rather bike than use a stroller!

  4. Bus Chick says:

    Great topic. My daughter, who’s 28 months, didn’t start riding in a stroller regularly until she was about 18 months (the baby carrier was better at keeping her calm and much easier for bus rides), so she never really got attached to strollers as a way of getting around. And honestly, she’s always kind of hated strollers. This might be because, until recently, we only had one, very lightweight umbrella stroller—optimized for streamlined travel rather than comfort. I think it's mostly because she's always liked being close to a parent. I digress.

    The way we started getting her used to doing her own walking: On long walks, when we had the time, we’d let her get out and walk a block or two on her own. Then, when she got tired, we’d put her back. That worked pretty well for building up her stamina and interest in walking. The only issue was convincing her to get back in the stroller after the couple of blocks were up.

    These days, we do what you did: Have her walk for short trips to the park, the coffee shop, the library, the bus stop, et cetera.

    We decide whether to bring the stroller on bus trips by how much walking we’ll have to do when we get where we’re going. If there are two of us going, one of us can carry her when she gets tired. Of course, now that we have a newborn, we have to weigh the need to keep control of her (if one parent is traveling with both) against the hassle of dealing with the stroller on the bus, et cetera.

    These days, she walks (albeit slowly) without complaining–except she does protest when we get to big hills. It will be interesting to see if she remains OK with it as she grows up.

  5. I agree that kids need interesting places to walk to – on their own, with friends or even in the even with their parents. My sister's 10-year-old daughter walks a few times a week after school to an old fashioned soda shop in downtown Cary, NC. It is close to the school and its a ritual the children seem to love. Kids in the "old" inner city neighborhoods of Louisville can walk to coffee shop, skate shops, boutiques, and many, many parks and play grounds located near their homes. I wish I had enjoyed that opportunity for independence through having someplace to walk to when I was a kid.

  6. Angela V-C says:

    @Lex It's good to have a heads up about the future. H has already been angling a lot to get to ride her scooter instead of walking to places like the library, which works pretty well.

    @Lex and @MamaVee We do find that for trips of a mile or longer, the bike really saves our butts. Once a destination gets that far, my patience for walking with her really goes down. She's also much more likely to start complaining a little on a walk of a mile or longer.

    It's interesting that hiking is so different — we haven't really hiked with H, but maybe its worth trying.

    @Sor Cyress It's really nice to hear something good about the walkability of suburbia! I'm really looking forward to the day when H (and later R) get to walk to school on their own, and they'll even have friends from next door to walk with. But the walk is only about a quarter mile, but it's still nice to have the independence of walking.

    @BusChick Not bringing stroller on public transit is a big change that's happened for us in the past year. It used to be we'd bring it and at some point lugging it on a train or bus became much more annoying that the thought of being stuck with only walking as an option on the other end. Of course, now baby R is getting bigger and we're more likely to want a stroller for him on a long trip to save our poor backs!

    @She Rides a Bike — It's a small world! The only time I think I walked to school as a child was when we lived in Cary, NC, for a year! And I do think more communities should be designed so that kids can walk independently in them. I think it feeds our paranoia as parents about letting our kids have independence when there isn't actually a way to let them get to things independently.

  7. I seem to remember that as a child, my mom and my sisters would be walking with me, even at night. I would say I was fairly young but with two people much taller than me it was easy to have fun because they'd swing me between them and once I knew how to skip that was even more fun. Once I didn't want to walk and I tried riding in my mom's red little push cart and fell. That made me want to walk/skip all the more.

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