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Linda Solomon's 5 tips for walking to school with your kid

In this guest blog, Linda Solomon of the Vancouver Observer discusses how to make walking to school fun for kids.

Many adults love walking.  But how to make it fun for a kid?  I’ve been exploring how to do this by going on foot to school with my youngest son. We cover fifty blocks a day together each day—sometimes more—and I’ve found it’s a healthy, fun and surprisingly wonderful alternative to driving.

I’ve been living without a car for three months now. It’s an experiment. I wanted to see if a single mother with two school aged sons could survive without a vehicle. I believed my life would be better without a car. I live near the Canada Line and thought that if I can’t do it, who can?  My older son rides the city bus to school, but until I let go of the car, I drove my Grade Three son.

But now, we walk to school. It takes us a half an hour. Then I walk another half an hour to work. At pick-up time, I walk back to his school and then home with him, which means another hour of walking for me. That’s two hours of walking. Two hours of being outside. And two very special hours of alone time for me and my kid. Our dog enjoys all of this, too.

Tip One: Build in rewards and emphasize them to your kid. “We get to spend more time together, this way.  You always get a treat so you have energy to keep going.  We have time to talk and play.”

Walking has made me realize what a gorgeous fall we had. How many perfectly beautiful mornings greeted us as we started the day. I thoroughly enjoy these afternoon walks and I love walking home with my son, stopping for a cup of hot chocolate or a bowl of soup at our favourite cafe. A new routine has evolved around our new lives as pedestrians. If it’s dumping rain, I always have the option of grabbing a Car Coop car. Well, almost always. (More on that in later blogs, when I get to the parts of being car-less that, to quote, my son, really and truly suck.)

Tip Two: Have a back-up planThere’s no greater back up plan in Vancouver than The Car Coop. (In Chicago, there is I-go and Zip. In Cleveland, you can get CityWheels.  Almost every major and mid-size city has a carsharing organization now, do an internet search on carsharing to find yours.)  I joined the week I gave up my car and it’s a great psychological boost to know that if I NEED a car, they’re only a block away.  When I sold my car, and put $500 towards a Car Coop membership, I felt like my one car magically divided into a fleet of 50 cars.

My son still says he misses the car. The purple Volkswagen that used to always await us in the underground parking lot.

“If we had the car, we could be there in about a minute,” he often reminds me, as we head out. “We could sit and relax.”

“YOU could sit and relax,” I say. “I wouldn’t be able to look at you while we talk. When you show me a cat in the window, I wouldn’t be able to take my eyes off the road. Remember how you used to hate that?”

He shakes his head. “I liked sitting in the back and just relaxing.”

“I like the adventures we have walking,” I say.

He doesn’t answer.  He’s literally moved on and is absorbed in watching a squirrel munching on a nut or our dog greeting a fellow canine.

Tip Three:  Good shoes. This should be tip one.  My feet aren’t the best in the world, so having the right shoes makes all the difference between pain and pleasure.  Running shoes with orthotics make my walks wonderful.  I keep my kid in good shoes, too.  What you save in gas money, you can invest in footwear.

Yes, every day offers another new experience on the pedestrian trail. The colours of the leaves as our feet kick them up, the quirky people we pass, the stores I never noticed from the car, challenges posed by wind and rain and soggy feet.

Inevitably,  sometimes I’m late, or exhausted and I STILL have to walk, run, or whatever it takes. The times he doesn’t feel his best, or hasn’t had enough to eat, or right, when we look out in the morning to see the skies sobbing. And we still have to walk. I pull out my large umbrella and there you go. I often suggest he get a ride from friends, on those mornings, and prepare to make a call.

Tip Four: Build a twenty minute run into your walk home from school and you don’t need to go to the gym.

But maybe you’ll still want to…

Or, maybe not.

“I wanna walk, Mom,” my son says, after I offer him the option to carpool with a

neighbour instead of walking in the rain. “C’mon.”

Once we’re outside, the fresh air invogirates us.  Getting rained on creates a different kind of walk, and for him, a different kind of play.

He arrives to school with rosy cheeks and a half hour of exercise behind him.

Tip Five: Get ready to be understanding and cheerful even when your kid isn’t. 

As the adult, you steer the ship. You set the tone. Your positive attitude will rub off. Just listening with understanding  as a smaller person explains why what you make them do absolutely dismays them goes a long way in dispeling grumpiness.  Don’t react to grumpiness with grumpiness. Remember, you’re training a future walker, a child who will grow up into an adult who loves being on his or her feet in the out of doors.  If it isn’t fun, why the heck do it?  But it is fun…

Except when it hails. 

One more thing. Hurry up.  Walking fast leads to longer life, researchers have found.

New Yorkers walk an average of four miles a day and a fascinating article from  New York Magazine  “Why New Yorkers Last Longer”, explains why this adds up to longer life spans and healthier lives:

Researchers have long known New Yorkers walk faster than anyone else in the country. But epidemiologist Simonsick wondered, does walking speed affect health?

She decided to conduct an experiment to find out. She and a group of scientists assembled 3,075 seniors in their seventies and asked them to traverse a 400-meter course, walking as fast as they could. They monitored their subjects’ health over the next six years, during which time 430 of the geriatrics died and many more fell ill. When Simonsick crunched the data, she found that the ones who were dying and getting sick were the ones who walked the slowest. For every minute longer it took someone to complete the 400-meter walk, he had a 29 percent higher chance of mortality and a 52 percent greater chance of being disabled. People who walk faster live longer—and enjoy better health in their later years.

“Walking speed absolutely reflects health status,” Simonsick says. So when you irritatedly blow past a trio of ambling visitors from Ohio or Iowa on the subway platform, you’re not just being an obnoxious New Yorker. You’re demonstrating that you’re going to outlive them—and enjoy better health while they slowly degrade.

“The thing is, as Simonsick points out, New York is literally designed to force people to walk, to climb stairs—and to do it quickly. Driving in the city is maddening, pushing us onto the sidewalks and up and down the stairs to the subways. What’s more, our social contract dictates that you should move your ass when you’re on the sidewalk, so as not to annoy your fellow walkers. (A recent ranking of cities found that
New York has the fastest pedestrians in the country.) As Simonsick sees it, the very structure of the city coerces us to exercise far more than people elsewhere in the U.S., in a way that is strongly correlated with a far-better life expectancy. Every city block doubles as a racewalking track, every subway station, a StairMaster. Seen this way, the whole city looks like a massive exercise machine dedicated to improving our health while we run errands…”

Vancouver could easily rival New York City’s position as greatest walking city in the world. Walking solves a lot of problems. Walking fast solves even more. See you on the sidewalk!

Article by Linda Solomon of the Vancouver Observer.

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