Why we walk

IMG_0683We tend to walk a lot in our family, in fact I get really frustrated if I haven’t been on a walk during the day and I know my youngest son feels the same. He gets grumpy and acts out, he needs that outdoor time and that exercise. It hasn’t always been that way though. When I used to live in a lovely cottage right next to the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway line, surrounded by woodland, with a huge garden and public footpaths everywhere I rarely walked to the shops or to see people, it was simply too dangerous on the roads with two small children. We would occasionally go on a stroll through Haverthwaite Heights or follow the path along the railway line (out of season), but I didn’t make it something we did regularly and I regretted that as they got older.

When my third child was born I made a very conscious decision that we would walk everywhere as soon as he could. I even ditched the car completely. Even before he could walk I would pop him in the sling or the buggy (depending on how far and how long I was going) and get out of the house every single day. It changed my life and it certainly affected him in a very positive way. From the moment he could walk (aged one) we were off. We would toddle over to the park, or to the shops, down to Grandma’s or simply to see the neighbour’s chickens around the corner. Now he’s three and walks a mile or more each day with no difficulty whatsoever. He rarely complains, his road sense is way beyond his years and the benefits from spending that amount of time outside are noticeable. Walking has developed his observational skills, his gross and fine motor skills and his knowledge of the world around him. I believe walking so much is one of the reasons my youngest is so incredibly confident.

I understand everyone brings their children up the best way they know how but I do feel a little sad when I see children as old as three or four strapped into a buggy. I know it’s not feasible for everyone, what I do, and I know from experience that starting to get your kids to walk everywhere later is much harder than if you start them really young. They simply don’t have the stamina. But sometimes I wonder if some parents just really underestimate their child’s capabilities, and maybe they don’t realise (like I did) if your kid walks, they sleep.

Walking at Ennerdale aged 2 – see that Crag in the distance? He’d just climbed that… with a little help.

Of course you need snacks, and you need drinks and you need to be patient and prepared. You need to overestimate how long it will take you to get somewhere, not because of their tiny little legs but because of the other wonder of walking with children; they notice things. A child’s viewpoint of your path is a very different one to the one you’ll see. The mini-beasts and insects, the leaves, the plants in cracks in the walls. The broken tarmac, the odd things in a drain, the discarded rubbish. Everything is interesting to a toddler. Being part of their world is a wonderful way to embrace the present, it’s an act of mindfulness and therefore as beneficial to you as it is to them.

IMG_1575The other day my son and I were walking the three quarters of a mile into town, something we do together most days and he asked me, “where are the grasshoppers?” Now last summer we had been walking this path and there had been twenty or thirty grasshoppers chirruping on the pavement, we had stopped and J had watched them for five or ten minutes in absolute amazement. I couldn’t believe he could remember something from such a long time ago considering how young he was then and still is. I explained it wasn’t warm enough yet and that we would have to wait a little while before they came again. My heart melted.

Little moments like that, or the times we stop to pick up a beautifully striped snail shell, or to notice the seasonal changes of the trees, or blow a dandelion clock and watch the seeds float away on the breeze, or watch the diggers developing the new emergency centre, these are all learning moments. Moments that would fly by in a flash had we been in a car. Moments that are building his sense of the world and his place in it.

There are movements all over the country encouraging children to walk to school, not only to lower the amount of congestion outside school gates and the pollution caused by all that traffic but to promote healthier lifestyles for children. My son may not understand the benefits of his morning walk yet but I know the walk to to the bus stop and then to nursery (a good 25 minutes walking) helps him prepare for his day. He’s not rushed, he’s not stressed, he’s ready to learn. His muscles are warmed up, his brain has woken up and he’s focused.

Next week is national Walk To School Week, children all over the country will be taking part in this drive towards healthier living and you can to. Ask your child’s school if they are taking part and what you can do to get involved. And if you can’t walk to school then take a short walk after dinner, it doesn’t have to be far, it doesn’t have to be in the countryside. Let your children lead the way and just step outside.

Amy x

Interesting links

Ulverston Walks

Walking Britain

Raising kids who love to walk

Walk to school week 


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