I grew up in a small farming community in Indiana.  Many of the roads that led to school were “chip-and-seal” or dirt roads, both of which cut between miles of golden wheat and corn fields. It never crossed my mind as a child to walk to school or even ride my bike for that matter.

Of course most of us have heard our grandparents share their “Back in my day, we had to do XYZ to get to school” story.  These stories usually involve them walking for at least a mile through “all weather.”

Recently, I’ve seen videos of young children in other countries who literally scale the side of a mountain crossing unsteady and treacherous rope bridges on their “walk” to school. Now that is some serious dedication.

My children, on the other hand, were born and are being raised in the 3rd largest city in America, Chi-town (a.k.a. Chicago).  This year, my oldest started kindergarten. We are fortunate to live exactly one mile from the school.

Knowing what I know about the importance of children getting daily exercise and fresh air (added bonus: I get exercise too), I recently decided we would start walking home from school.

It has been a magical experience and I would like to share with you two discoveries I witnessed once I slowed life down to a walking pace.

Overcoming My Own Mental Roadblock:

My kids are 19 months apart and my partner and I opted against buying a double stroller. Consequently, I did the whole “wear-one-push-one” which was fine until my youngest hit the “45-lb max” limit on the backpack carrier around age 2 ½.

As a result, we bought a sturdy wagon which can hold both kids (plus groceries, etc).  However, hauling a combined weight of 90+ lbs was not enjoyable on the bumpy and cracked city sidewalks. I found it difficult to walk to places that I used to walk to (when I could wear-one-push-one) so I stopped walking as often and started driving.

Autumn blew into town around the same time I decided I wasn’t going to pull the kids everywhere. This decision resulted in me driving three blocks to the store just so I didn’t have to listen to the moans and groans from the kids who didn’t want to walk.

Winter followed and my decision to stop fighting the whines and just drive everywhere became the norm.  This was the same time the kids were definitely “too heavy” to pull in the wagon together, so it was super easy for me to justify driving everywhere.

Enter Spring.

It wasn’t just the snow that melted this spring but also my resistance to walking whenever possible. This change happened for two reasons:

  1. I realized and owned the fact that my 4-year-old and 5-year-old are completely capable (physically speaking) to walk a mile or more at one time. Their resistance is psychological (like mine).
  2. I became very frustrated with my weight and my inability to “shift it.” I knew exercise would help so I put my grey cells to work devising a plan.

The first step in my plan was forcing myself to face my own fear of the potential fallout from the kids (i.e. having to walk one mile with two kids kicking and screaming home).

The second issue was the fact that I didn’t feel it necessary to ask my 4-year-old to walk two miles (round trip). I am aware many children around the world must walk 2+ miles a day out of necessity. I feel fortunate that I have a choice.

The solution was simple: use the wagon. I decided to pull my 4-year-old the first mile (which is great for me and my health) and we would both walk the one mile home. This way, if the kids act up or get overly tired, I can always put them in the wagon and pull them for a block or two to give them a break. (BTW I have never needed to put the kids in the wagon on the walk home.)

And just like that, I fixed two “potholes” with one solution.

Reframe and Slow Down:

I ain’t gonna lie. The first few weeks, when we started walking home, weren’t all flowers and backflips. My son complained so much that I threatened to have his other parent walk him the mile to school so he could walk two miles every day. I told him I would happily drive the car and meet them at school in the morning so my significant other could drive straight to work. I would then walk one mile home pushing my daughter in the stroller.

My son knows his “Momma B don’t play” and quickly adjusted his attitude. The complaining stopped, yet the enjoyment wasn’t quite at the level I wanted. It was obvious I needed to give the kids a small “nudge” toward natural curiosity. Kids are born curious creatures…as parents we just need to provide them space and opportunity for exploration.

To slow the walk down I needed to slow down my internal race car engine mind which runs at full speed. I was blessed with lots of energy which is great if I can channel it positively but I tend to “over-book” my daily expectations. Once I made that mental realization, the walk became much easier and I chilled out a bit.

Every other day, after we’ve walked six blocks, one of the kids is allowed to pick a “special-treat-spot” where they are given two small Dove chocolate pieces. While we sit and snack, we look around us noticing things such as the sky, clouds, bugs, flowers, smells, etc.

After our snack, we take our time clamoring over rocks, hardscape materials such as wooden beams or cement blocks, while finding interesting things to observe such as a honey bee sipping nectar from a flower while his little legs, loaded with bright yellow pollen happily dance and sway.

It’s amazing how easy it is to forget the astounding complexity you can find in nature if you don’t take the time to really examine something “common” like a bug, a pine cone, a dandelion. Seeing life through the young eyes of your child(ren) is a gift often forgotten by adults.

Don’t feel bad, we all do it. I forget all the time. It’s because parents today are expected to be like a circus clown juggling work/kids/love life/personal life/maintain a healthy weight/give back to your community/volunteer etc. It’s impossible, and yet, we all somehow manage to keep doing it day, after day, after day. But just because we are surviving…doesn’t make it healthy.

The Takeaway:

Take time this summer to slow down with your child(ren). Go to the woods, a beach, or even just head out to your own backyard or neighborhood park. Show your children how to find beauty in the “boring” and feed their natural curiosity.

You will feel a boost in your own endorphins (our bodies’ natural “feel good” hormone) when you get out in nature, move around and slow down. You will create special memories and bonding moments as you explore together. More importantly, you will be modeling for your child(ren) how to slow down and “smell the roses.”

“Without continuous hands-on experience, it is impossible for children to acquire a deep intuitive understanding of the natural world that is the foundation of sustainable development….A critical aspect of the present-day crisis in education is that children are becoming separated from the daily experience of the natural world, especially in larger cities.” —Natural Learning, Creating Environments for Rediscovering Nature’s Way of Teaching, Robin C. Moore and Herb H. Wong