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?