Did you know that physically, a toddler can walk about a mile? It’s true! I’ve even seen small children walk more than this. It may come a a surprise to some that walking is one of the best activities for children. Why?
1. Walking increases endurance. If you can build up the endurance for physical activity, your toddler will be better able to play longer and have more tolerance for difficult situations that arise.
2. Long walks make for better sleep. By reducing stress, expelling extra energy and getting some good fresh air, your toddler may just surprise you with longer naps and better nighttime sleep.
3. Makes hungry bellies! Once your digestive fire is going from all of the exercise, a toddler might willingly devour a whole plate of cucumbers or kale! Mine will!
4. Helps build and improves the rhythmic system (heart, lungs, blood flow). (Stay tuned for a whole post just on this topic based on the work of Rudolf Steiner)
5. Concentrated quality time. Children love to pay close attention to hidden things nature and delight in the joy found on the earth; they LOVE when we share this with them.
Now, that probably sounds great but I bet some are wondering how on earth to make that happen. Toddlers wander and get tired, they fuss and stop for hours to look at a rock. Well there are some simple rules I follow when walking toddlers. Safety is important to me and I also like to relax on my walks. Following these tricks that I’ve learned over my teaching years help make our walks a safe and fun experience.
1. NEVER walk where you would not want them to wander. Their body will remember the pattern. So if you climb a big hill one day or go into the bushes to pick berries the next, expect to do it every single day. Where you walk is sort of like a crayon path that they will want to go, so mark your path well. If you are very, very careful about this the first 5 walks, then it will make things much easier and much SAFER for your future walks.
2. Create ‘stopping points’. Toddlers love to run off but if you can enforce a very clear expectation that they can only run to a certain point, they will stay in your sight. On your first walk, communicate very clearly the place that they must stop and wait for you and then make them stop here every single time you are out. Walk to that spot with them and then SIT THERE with them for a few minutes. Name it something fun like ‘the sitting rock’, ‘the butterfly bush’ or ‘the great big tree.’ Check out nature and chat about the clouds. Then make a big deal when its time to go again.
3. NO PHONES! Walking with your children is like concentrated quality time every bit if attention you give to them and to your beautiful surroundings will triple to inside play. (Possibly an exaggeration, but this point must be stressed) They do not want you on the phone either so will most likely create mischief to get your attention back. ;)
4. Go slow. Like turtle speed slow. If you have an hour long to walk then expect half a mile, total! When your children are more used to walking you will be able to go further.
5. Walk daily, gradually increasing the distance. Start by walking to the end of the block, then a little more, and a little more every day. In the beginning don’t go far as you may end up carrying your toddler home; 30 pounds is not fun to carry for 1/2 a mile.
6. Sit still and observe. When you stop and play, don’t hover over your children, let them explore. When you stay in one place, you will be a strong foundation for them and they will be more free to explore knowing where their home base is. They love it when we quietly watch them in reverence; take joy in their discovery of the nature that surrounds them, you will be surprised what they see that you may have overlooked.
7. Trust your toddler, they are smarter than most people realize. If they tumble or get stuck, resist the urge to rush over and help them; often they will fuss for a second and then become delighted in a bug or rock that they have found on the ground in front of them. Don’t help them climb trees and hills; it is safer if they can climb it themselves as they will learn how to manage the tree (you can help them get down though) They will feel that you trust them to take on the challenge instead of nervous that they can’t do it on their own.
BONUS 8. DON’T EAT FROM PLANTS! If you will be so lucky as to walk deep in nature, learn about the animal droppings and plants in your area that may be unsafe to touch or eat. You could also learn about what is safe to eat from the wild, but I don’t think I would let children under 6 eat straight from wild plants as the younger ones will do it to ALL plants and not know the difference. For little ones you could always pick plants that you want to eat at home, like blackberries or fiddle heads. Remember that they do what they see you do, if you eat a blackberry from a plant, they may feel inclined to eat nightshade berries, just like mommy. Be safe and resist the urge.
I hope that this is all helpful for you. Please let me know the tricks and tips that you use when walking with your children.