When my children were small we lived on the French/Swiss border. One of the little pleasures in my life was joining the Flower Walks conducted by an English horticulturist. They were held on a Wednesday mornings, which meant I had to bring my small boys along as schools are shut in France on Wednesdays (they open Saturday morning instead). They were welcomed, their questions answered seriously and their occasional antics tolerated so long as they didn’t damage the flowers. Before my oldest could read, he could use the index of the flower book to find the page for a flower.
The boys (aged 5 and 3) had no trouble keeping up, partly because we stopped frequently to examine specimens and partly because we walked everywhere on the steep roads in the small village we lived in. When their sister came along, she joined us, first in a stroller, then walking, with the stroller along in case she got tired.
We were due to return to Canada just before she turned two. The last flower walk of the year was always an all day one and a walk up a mountain to see the alpine flowers. There was no way we could take a stroller. By then the boys were six and eight and experienced walkers so I decided to go. My daughter was a good little walker, we did stop a lot and I could carry her if she got tired.
It was one of the best flower walks. The boys managed very well. When we walked through one area with large hummocks too far apart for the six-year-old’s small legs to stretch, someone gave him a hand to jump. I carried his sister through that area.
Sometimes, one of my fellow walkers would offer to carry her. Most of the time, she walked on her own sturdy legs. The older boy bounded ahead with his precious flower book, chatting a mile a minute and asking all sorts of questions.
I suppose there was some whining, but I don’t remember doing much. The boys enjoyed themselves and my daughter, a social child, enjoyed the people as well as the adventure. When we arrived back at the rendezvous point, a parking lot near my husband’s work, all four of us felt energetic enough to drop in on his farewell party. We were invited to join them, but rather than push our luck, I let the kids make the rounds of guests they knew, help themselves to some party food and we headed home while everyone was still charmed.
How were my children able to manage a day walking up and then down a mountain over the course of a morning and an afternoon? As soon as my kids could walk, I stopped using the stroller. On a long walk or if I was going grocery shopping, I would take it with me. I let the toddler choose when she needed to ride. The thing is that babies and toddlers take pride in walking and running so the stroller isn’t needed often.
Wasn’t safety an issue? Yes. When we were on city streets where there was no boulevard between us and the cars, I slipped a harness over the toddler and held the reins.
You might object that this is like leashing a dog. One of the reasons we leash our dog is so he doesn’t run out in traffic. I rarely needed to use the harness more than a couple of times, because the kids preferred to be independent. The deal was if they kept away from the road, stopped and waited for me at corners and did what I said immediately, they wouldn’t need the harness. They learned early that safety came first and they could take control, or I would. I wish my dog had trained that quickly.
I preferred the harness to using a bracelet linked to the adult or even holding hands because the toddler had her hands free and was less likely to get her shoulder wrenched if she did fall. I preferred the toddler free and thinking about safety to the harness. I certainly wouldn’t have used it on the flower walks, as we tended to walk through lanes and fields and meadows.
One day I saw a nanny who probably didn’t weigh more than 100 pounds pushing a stroller with two pre-schoolers in it. The stroller plus the children must have weighed more than her. I wanted to ask her what was wrong with these children that neither of them could walk. I am sure the children’s parents spent money to
exercise in a gym while denying their children the opportunity to do what comes naturally.
Let your children go. Yes, they will walk slower than you, so plan to walk more slowly. This is a good time to listen to them talk, observe their world as they see it. It is amazing how fascinating a garbage truck and a snow plow can be. Reading the names on manhole covers can teach you a lot about your community’s history; it’s good prereading for your child, too.
So leave the stroller behind, teach your child how to walk safely beside the road and get to know her and her community. If she grows up to be a walker, as my three have, she will never need to shell out for a gym or worry about her weight.
Below are Participaction’s guidelines for activity levels for the under fours:
- B.C. children need to get active to lose weight (with Video) (vancouversun.com)
- Toddler Emotional Development (enfamil.com)
- Preschoolers urged to reach and move for health (cbc.ca)
- Kids and Leash Laws (oneburnedoutmama.com)