It started about 5years ago
Me: “Right kiddies, we’re walking to school!”
Kids: “Noooo, muuuum, do we have to?”
So, the odds were stacked against me. Two children age 6 and 9, the Great British weather, a 30 minute walk, and a school where 98% of the pupils were driven there.But, I was determined and full of enthusiasm. I must admit though, the first few weeks were difficult and full of grumpy faces and howls of disapproval (me included!) It was a long way to school so I decided to park the car about half way and tackle a 15minute walk. And that’s how we started.
The first couple of days were not so bad: it was novel and exciting. But soon the children were not impressed and they spent most of the way asking “why do we have to walk to school? No one else does” or “I’m tired, how much longer?” With clenched teeth and a forced smile (mums, you know what I mean) I carried on, trying to change the subject, resolute and determined.
Then, that magical day came: the turning point, the point where the change now became the habit. No longer a complaint at waking early, no more whining, no more questions. We just walked! There was no turning back from that day. We developed a good routine in the morning and the walk was just the icing on the cake.
That first year, we were just learning to walk with each other. I learned what games they liked to play; word games, song games, guessing games. It was fun! We missed the rainy days, the snowy days, I’m-not so-well days and the running-late days and by the end of that year the kids would actually groan instead of cheering when we had to go by car. Triumph!
The years went by and we went from our 15minute walk to the full 30 minutes. We started walking in the rain, the snow, the blustery wind. We walked faster when we were late and we walked off tummy-aches or headaches. We walked with P.E. bags, Guitar, Cello, and whatever else may be needed. There were never any excuses not to walk!
Our interaction changed from childish games to real conversations about school, friends and teachers. When my son went to secondary school, I continued with my daughter during the week.But I was determined not to lose that interaction with him, especially during the often difficult year of adjusting to a new school, so I dragged him out of bed on a Saturday morning and we walked for an hour while his sister went to her dance class. I am not going to lie, it was hard- he was becoming a teenager and he often didn’t want to go but he had no choice and after the first 10 minute silence, he would eventually ease into a conversation.
In fact there is something about walking. It relaxes you in a way that nothing else can. It must be the fresh air, being on neutral territory and the rhythm of movement that does something deep within. The children may start the walk grumpy but within 10 minutes they open up are confiding their worries and fears without me having to prompt them. We have even had “that” conversation: the birds and the bees! We’ve talked about difficult subjects like sexual abuse, about bullying, homosexuality, politics, wars, current affairs, history, relationships, religion, the list goes on.
There is so much to gain from walking. Apart from all the health benefits, physical and mental, there is the learning to cross roads, being aware of your surroundings, traffic, people and nature. But the most valuable aspect for me is that I have had the opportunity to learn about my kids. I can honestly say that there is no other setting like it. I can say it because I have done it. The car is ok, but you are not 100% relaxed, and stress levels are raised just by being in morning traffic. At home, there is always a distraction. And if you decide you “need to talk” you have to take the kids out of a comfortable situation and almost formalise a meeting, whether its sitting at the edge of the bed or at the kitchen table. I’m not saying these don’t work. Of course they do and these may be your only option. But that 30 minutes walk with them, opens them up in a relaxed, unthreatening, easy way and somehow they seem to say much more than they would normally.
Looking back, I am immensely proud of my kids for just doing it! But I am proud of myself too. I have had to work hard, go against the grain and by doing so, have nurtured in them a love for walking and the outdoors. A gift that I hope will never leave them and help them throughout life. Often mums at school say “I wish I could do it but….” Or “how do you manage”.
Well I stopped wishing and started doing and that’s how I manage. Easy, no secret, not rocket science. And worth more than I could have ever imagined.
Share your thoughts and stories too. It’s lovely to hear how such a simple activity can change your relationship with your loved ones.