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Encouraging kids to walk


I am very lucky to live less than a mile from a thriving commercial district that boasts a grocery, library, park, post office, restaurants, year-round farmers market and other stores and services that one might need. We try to walk to these places whenever possible (and let's face it, I'm a fair weather walker). Our 7-year old is a good walker, and last summer we started weaning the 4-year old off the stroller. His transition from rider to walker has been slow (and who can blame him?) but we've finally said so long to that old baby jogger, and we are all putting shoe rubber to the road these days. So while his sister is at school, he and I walk places. But there are days when I really have to sell him on the idea of walking versus driving, so I've come up with a host of ready responses when I sense resistance:

We almost always run into friends. Seriously, almost every time. Yesterday on our way to the park we had a spontaneous 30-minute playdate with the neighbor boys who were out in their yard. How fun is that? Our lovely teenage neighbor, on her way home from school, walked with us and patiently listened to the latest superhero story that he'd made up. Dogs were petted, greetings exchanged. Every time we walk we get to know our neighbors better, which ultimately makes us feel happier and more connected to our community.

Exciting, unexpected things often happen. As we passed by the fire station yesterday, my son waved at a firefighter. He ended up with a personal 30-minute tour of all of the fire trucks, opening every door and sitting in every seat. As we left the station we talked about how smart we were to have walked, because if we'd driven we would have never run into the fire chief. You just never know when something unexpectedly wonderful might happen, and it frequently does when you're on foot. A few weeks before we met a new neighbor who cut off one of his cattails for my son to take home. These cattails are landmarks on our walks, and we wonder about them every time we pass. It was like winning the lottery.

Games are fun on foot. When we need a distraction, we'll start up a game. 'I Spy' is a favorite, particularly in the warmer months when there is actually some color. In the fall we'll hunt for the biggest or most colorful leaf on the ground. Or we might count how many cats we see. Sometimes we 'race' each other from mailbox to mailbox, which is great if we need to get home in a hurry.

We're making our bodies stronger. As he's gotten older and more physical, my son has shown more interest in being 'fast.' So we talk about getting exercise through walking, how it makes our muscles and bones stronger so we can run faster. While this line of reasoning doesn't always work when pushing veggies at dinner, it does motivate him to walk.

Do your kids enjoy walking? Any good, encouraging strategies to share?


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