If I’m an expert at anything – as a mom with two kids aged 10 and 8 and with no driver’s license – it’s getting around without a car. People can’t believe I’m able to manage without one, but I’ve found that aside from small inconveniences, not driving can actually be pretty awesome. One of the benefits is that my family is much more active than we would be if we drove everywhere.
And my husband drives, so we’re able to use our car for activities that take us out of our immediate neighbourhood, for big grocery shops, and for road trips. But because I’m the one working from home, it’s mostly up to me to get the kids where they need to go.
So we walk. Walking to school, daycare, preschool or just out to do some errands is a great way for kids to get time outside, be more active, and develop skills like running, jumping, skipping, hopping, and balancing, which are foundational movement skills for physical literacy.
I’ll admit that it’s easier to travel by foot in good weather. Winter can be hard when you don’t have wheels. But it’s not impossible. Here are some of the tricks that have worked for me over the years:
- Choose your winter extra-curricular programs strategically. We usually scale back on programs in the winter, but the ones we sign up for are generally within walking distance. This works for our family because we live in an urban centre with lots of great options close by. If this isn’t your situation, try to leave some nights of the week open for outdoor play. If it’s snowing, you can build snowmen and forts, make snowballs, and toboggan. If it’s not snowing, try hopscotch, soccer, road hockey, and unstructured play. You might find yourself happier you don’t have to navigate winter roads. Pro tip: make sure you have some hot chocolate waiting on the stove for when you’re done.
- If you just can’t walk to school, don’t stress. If you must drive your kids to school and activities for whatever reasons, don’t beat yourself up. As often as you can park your car a block or two away and enjoy the time to walk with your kids.
- Invest in all the gear. I probably don’t have to repeat the well-worn nugget that there’s no bad weather just bad clothing. But here’s the thing: last fall, after being badly (frost) bitten by the polar vortex of 2013/2014, I made sure that I was ready for the worst by getting the warmest gear I could find. I’m generally frugal and had been wearing the same coat and boots since my kids were tiny, but technology has come a long way and that new gear really did make a huge difference in my comfort level. Outfit your kids in all the appropriate, water-proof, well-fitting layers, and you’ll find they’ll be much more willing to walk even when it’s cold out.
- Be visible at all times. It gets dark early during the winter months, but there are other things like snow squalls that can make visibility difficult even during the day. Make sure that cars can see you and your children at all time by wearing safety reflectors. I like these reflectors from Active Kids Club.
- Make it fun. There is something utterly magical about being out in the dark walking through a snow-covered neighbourhood lit up by Christmas lights. Kids love searching for different decorations, reindeers, and light patterns. Play I Spy, or come up with a scavenger hunt, and the time will fly by. For daytime walks, up the fun factor by giving kids a list to complete by the end of the walk: throw a snowball, make a snow angel, jump over the slushy puddle. My kids do that stuff on their own, so my job is to be dressed warm enough and to have left ample time to get to our destination so they have time to play along the way. Which brings me to my next point.
- Slow down. What’s nice about getting places by foot is that you can’t schedule as many activities for the same day. And good things happen when we stop rushing because kids hate to rush. Make sure you leave enough time to get to where you’re going and allow for climbing on snow banks and sliding back down, picking up icicles and stopping for a mouthful of snow (hopefully non-yellow) every so often.
- Carry backups. Keep an extra pair of socks, mittens, and other easily-soaked articles of clothing in your diaper bag or in their backpack. You’ll be happy for the change of clothes if they end up diving into a puddle on the way to school or daycare.
- Make it a habit. Make active transportation a regular part of your family’s day and everyone will get used it. On a cold wintery day when my daughter was in Grade 2, a nice neighbour offered us a ride up the street. I was ready to jump in, but my daughter said, “No thanks, I’d prefer to walk.” I knew then that using her own body to get where she needed to go was being baked into her bones. And nothing does that better than consistency and repetition.
Even if incorporating daily active transportation doesn’t work for your family, it doesn’t take big changes to get kids moving more often; just 15 minutes playing outside every day, being active as a family, and some good role modelling from you is a great start. Active transportation is an easy way to check all three boxes as the same time. For more ideas, information, and inspiration please visit us at activeforlife.com.