Most parents have too many things to do just to get through the essentials of a day. Then you have to add in the stuff that’s good for you, like getting exercise. How do you manage it all? Combining elements helps a lot to make your day efficient.
Walking is great exercise and it’s also a great way to spend time together as a family. If the walk has a practical element—walking your child to school or walking to a store, for instance—it allows you to combine three things, making it possibly one of the most efficient parts of your day.
Too many children walk to school alone even though their parents are at home during the walk. Not only is it very dangerous for even the most responsible child, since a child in a scary situation may react differently than he does when you’re just quizzing him, but the parents are missing out on a great opportunity.
With your cell phone turned to silent, this is your time to have the undivided attention of your children. Put little ones in a stroller and head out for school together. Since you want your child’s school day to start well, don’t use the walk to lecture. Keep the conversation light and pleasant unless your child initiates a subject he wants to discuss. Ask him about what is happening in school or discuss his plans for being an adult. Don’t just focus on his career plans—what kind of life does he plan to have? You might be surprised or even amused. Younger children in particular often have very creative ideas about what their adult lives will be like. Use some time to help your children learn to imagine. Ask “what if” questions. “What if they decided to start a village on the moon and we got invited to be one of the families?” “What if someone gave us a pet elephant?” Once they’ve learned to imagine, children love to come up with big ideas.
If school is stressful, use the time to plan a fun event in the future. That way your child can have something to look forward to while he’s working his way through the school day. Let him contribute to the planning and make sure to include some of his ideas in the final plan.
After school, use the time to review how the day went. If your child had a bad day be sympathetic and help him find at least a little good in it. If there were problems, use this uninterrupted time to help him come up with a solution. Find out how he feels about each of the topics he is learning in school. “Does the Civil War interest you? Which do you like better—learning about the battles or hearing stories about real people who lived in the war? Did you know you have ancestors who fought in that war? Would you like me to tell you about them?”
The time just after school is great for asking about the people in your child’s school world. Invite him to tell you about his friends and enemies, about his teacher, even about the principle. This will give you insights into what he looks for in friends and heroes and allow you to start shaping his views gently if you’re not entirely pleased with his choices. Remember not to turn the walk into a battle, however. This is a bonding time for you.
If you have multiple children walking with you, make sure they’re all included in the conversations. Let each one have a turn telling you about their day. Then start a group discussion topic that they can participate in together. Ask them how they’d change their school if they were the principle, or which side of the Civil War they would have been on. Even if only one child is studying the Civil War, the others, having listened to that child tell about it, are likely to have opinions and the child actually studying it gets to be the expert for the moment. Children love being the family expert on things.
One advantage to walking children to and from school is that you have the other half of the walk to yourself. Try to resist getting on your cell phone or putting on music. Every person needs quiet thoughtful time. It’s a good time for an extended prayer. It’s also a good time to think through a problem you’re struggling with. Without cell phones ringing or chores demanding your attention, you can really focus in on your challenges and work them out.
You might want to use the time to make plans so the rest of your day goes faster. As a writer, I often “write” my articles or stories in my head as I walk, working out plot details or deciding on the pattern of the article. When I sit down to write, the writing goes very quickly. If you have complex tasks ahead of you, this is a great time to plan your strategy.
Look for other opportunities to put a walk into your life. If you live near a grocery store, invite a child or your spouse to walk with you to pick up milk and bread. Walk to a friend’s house.
Walks are also good educational opportunities. Not all children are interested in talking or learning during a walk, but some are. Invite a preschooler to go on a color walk, looking for everything that is blue. Get some binoculars and combine a walk with bird watching. Do a service project for your town and planet and take your children on a litter walk. As you walk, watch for litter and pick it up, putting it into the bags you bring with you. Spend a little time helping your children realize that if they litter, someone has to pick it up. Share with them the dangers of litter to animals and small children as well as to the environment.
Take children on a cheer-up walk. As you walk together, set a goal to smile at and greet anyone you encounter. Encourage them to look for something to compliment in a yard when they see people in their yards. (“Good morning. We were just admiring your beautiful roses. They make our walk so much more cheerful.”)
Often we focus too much on the negative, so invite your children to go on a “See the Good Stuff” walk. Ask them to bring notebooks and jot down every good thing they see on their walks. They might even want to bring along a camera to record pretty gardens, a friendly dog, a brand new tree, or whatever else captures their imaginations. This can train your children to notice the joy and beauty of their world so they won’t always think the world is a terrible and deteriorating place.
Take a walk just with your spouse. If you’re on a tight budget, a walk can be a very inexpensive date if you have older children who can watch your younger children. Use the time for pleasant conversations, so the walks become relationship builders.
Walking instead of driving, walking your children to school instead of sending them out alone, and walking just to enjoy a walk takes time, but your children have very short childhoods, even though right now it seems like it will go on forever. Someday you’ll look back on these walks with fondness because you’ll understand how much they really gave your family.