Walking, with kids.

Kids need a TON of movement. Some of that movement should be play, some should be using their upper body to swing and hang, and a lot of it should be walking. This is important to understand because we’ve gotten used to putting all exercise into one bucket and calling it good, but it doesn’t work like that. (Read more here)

The effects created by movement are very similar to the effects created by eating or ingesting supplements or pharmaceuticals. Your body responds very specifically to the various forces created by movement. There are small chemical changes that are created by the different angles and bone positions we use. There are mechanoreceptors in the bone that can only feel certain styles of movement. There are body benefits that can only be obtained through walking. We humans used to walk 800-900 miles per year with our families. That’s 17,000 minutes of annual travel time using the old hooves. These days, we log these miles online.

When it comes to children, walking is essential to developing the human body. Each type of exercise has its benefits, but the mechanoreceptors throughout the human form require walking (and a lot of it) to fully develop all the systems. Walking is not an option. It’s a requirement. For you, and your kids.

So, what do you do, then, when you don’t have time to walk with your child? Or your kid won’t walk? Or your kid will walk, but only in circles? Or for five minutes? Or for five minutes in circles?

I’m glad you asked!

Here’s what usually happens: You want to start walking. You head out. You walk for about 10 minutes and the kid is tired and doesn’t want to walk anymore. Then they want to be held. So you hold them.

This is all fine and great, but let’s imagine this scenario:

You want to learn how to run a 5K. You head out, running full blast. You run for 7.2 minutes. You are tired. You stop, and call your best friend to come and pick you up in the car. They do. The end.

These are the exact same scenario, physiologically. Kids do not have a natural psychological resistance to walking. They have a learned resistance to walking. Then, when you as a parent are ready to start doing family walks, you are disappointed when the child won’t walk more than a few minutes without having a little meltdown or something.

Please understand, the child is not having a mental episode. They are fatigued. Their body has reached it’s limit in terms of having the strength and endurance to continue. So now the real question is, how can I create a situation where my child can develop walking endurance?

If you’re all excited about heading out for a 30-minute walking session because YOU need the movement, that’s all great, but you’re basically setting the kid (and yourself) up for failure. Don’t use your walking time for the child’s necessary training session. The kid needs his own walk, that allows him to successfully complete the entire walk on his own two legs. Say “Hey Sam! It’s time for your walk! Let’s go!

1. Do this 2-3 times a day.

2. Walk only about 7-10 minutes, tops. Slightly more if it’s easy, slightly less if they are unable.

3. Increase the length of your walk, by 2-3 minutes (or about 10%) every week.

4. Be diligent. If you miss a week, then the endurance is lost. Children are rapidly increasing in mass. Which means that, while they aren’t walking, they are getting heavier. Which means that, they are quickly becoming too heavy for their endurance. Which means that you have to stay on top of this walking thing, like, every day.

Something else to consider is a child’s sense of time. Time is exaggerated in a child’s mind. Car trips take foooorreever. I used to think that a popular beach where I grew up was a few hours from my house. Turns out that, once I got my own driver’s license, it was 17 miles away. Oh. Really? It seemed farther than that.

To keep children from zoning out to cope with this huge walk you’re going to make them go on that takes fooooorrrever, pick a destination. Say, “Hey Samantha! We need to walk to the mailbox. Or the post office. Or the grocery store!” Make sure that this milage is doable for them (see step #1), and then let them know that there is purpose to their walking. There is a fixed end of their walk.

The younger the child, the easier it is to fill them with the wonder (and oxygen and bone density) that comes from walking. Older children typically have attitudes that match their parents’ when it comes to walking.

It’s too difficult, or it’s too far, or it’s too cold, or too long…

These aren’t their natural opinions, but your opinions that they’ve learned to adopt. If this is the case in your home, first model the behavior you’d like to see in your children. And then, after you’ve been a good little walker for some time, begin to insist the entire family walk — first short walks and then longer as the bodies adapt for better endurance.

If you’re thinking “Insisting on something with my children won’t work!” please consider the must-dos in your home. Do they have to do their homework? Do they have to be kind to others? Why wouldn’t “have enough endurance to move your skeleton around without some sort of contraption” be on the list of your family rules?

The “brushing the teeth rule” is in most homes. Walking daily is actually more important to health than brushing your teeth, and brushing your teeth is pretty gosh darned important. Your kids do it, though, because for some reason, the dental committee really made a compelling argument that people subscribe to, so you brush your teeth at least once a day.

Preventive dental care is easy and free. Tooth decay is expensive and kind of scary for most people, so many (hundreds of millions) do the work. You probably taught your kids to brush, but before you did, YOU were brushing daily, which is how they really knew it was important.

I didn’t even try to get Finn to brush his teeth in this picture, he just wanted to emulate me.

A daily walk is the most simple and inexpensive thing you can do for your whole body wellness. I cannot tell you how expensive (and scary) your health will become if you don’t do this for your children (and yourself) now.

How about I give you a sticker after each walk? Would that work?

Other suggestions:

Don’t become frustrated when kids get tired, just calibrate the time on their walk next time, which hopefully is later that same day. Allow children to explore, but continue moving forward at a rate that matches theirs.

Children pay more attention to what other children are doing, more so than to what their parents are doing. As you start taking longer walks, see if there is a friend who has a slightly older child (maybe even 3 or 4 of them!) who wants to walk with you. In more natural times, there were many parents with many children of varying ages (not just siblings) walking together. Do your best to recreate that. Children are trying to learn what the slightly older child is doing and make the computer-brain program “this is what kids do, they walk.” Help create a model that a child can follow naturally.

Clothing and weather: If you live in a place that requires 25 minutes of clothes-putting-on that causes a tantrum from you-know-who and major perspiration from the clothes-putter-on-er, consider short, less bundled walks around the outside of the house. Maybe the full suit is not required, but a good hat, gloves, vest, socks, and speed. Speed, as in walking fast, not the drug.

Are you still interested in learning more on this?

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42 thoughts on “Walking, with kids.

  1. Ok, so what if I have 4 kids, ranging in age from 2 to 11. The older two can walk a pretty good distance, especially if they’re allowed to go off-trail once in a while or run ahead and climb a tree while they wait for us.

    The little two will take about as many steps, but their legs are shorter and they can’t go as far.

    So I pull a wagon along, and they climb in and out of it to rest their legs once in a while.

    Which means I’m pulling a wagon, which is probably messing with some part of my own alignment, despite the wonderful benefits of walking.

    Now what?

    1. Well, read the blog again and try to implement a training time for *just* the younger kids. They cannot get any stronger by being pulled. They need short little bouts of their own, just slightly beyond what they can do on their own, every say, until their endurance matches everyone else!

      1. Actually, the pulling is serving as a way to extend how far they walk, and also means they do a lot of their walking in the conservation area rather than on sidewalks. They are spending more and more of the distance on foot, and resting for shorter and shorter times. The 4yo can nearly do the whole 2 km, with only a short “ride” in the middle, and the 2yo is walking about half way (usually the “middle half” where she gets to dabble sticks in the stream!).

        My question is more, what do I do about my own alignment on these excursions? Is the wagon the way to go, and alternate hands pulling, or would a “jogging stroller” be better?

        I realise the ideal is to not be pulling/pushing anyone, and I try to get out on my own for that, but when I have the kids with me, what is going to do the least damage?

        1. Well, a jogging stroller (like the seats of pretty much all strollers) slump the child back, tucking the pelvis, stressing the lumbar spine, etc. The wagon allows them to work their own musculature, so that’s good for them. It’s not that great for you, but perhaps instead of pulling it, you can find a local welder to create a solid upright bar that allows you to push without constant tugging on the weaker shoulder musculature. I can’ imagine that would cost more than $50 (check with the local high school or CC shop class — they’ve got kids all learning to weld and stuff…)

          1. How about attaching the wagon to a waist belt? If it were me, because I have the gear, I would try clipping the wagon to the back of my climbing harness with a carabiner. On the flat, and going uphill, you could be completely hands-free, though on the downhill, you’d probably have to exert some sort of control…

  2. Love this blog. At the risk of being defriended by my friends who have human children (while I have 0), I have passed this on to them because I love my friends and their kids (most of the time). I also thought a lot of the advice could be tried on aged parents who think walking is a waste of time when there are these things called cars.

    Could you also provide a few specific examples of: “There are small chemical changes that are created by the different angles and bone positions we use.”

    And just a bit more detail re the importance of: “There are mechanoreceptors in the bone that can only feel certain styles of movement.”

    Thank you!

    1. Details on mechanoreceptors: bone responds to weight — not the weight in the way we use it, but the force. Bone needs to be compressed or tensed axially. This is achieved through something called” weight-bearing” exercise (not “using weights” like most people interpret that statement) — search the blog for OSTEO which will bring up a lot of the science of bone generation, called osteogenesis…

      Also, you can get a free chapter of my book at http://www.footpainbook.com, that happens to explain a bit more about alignment and bone generation!

  3. Hi Katy,

    OK, you’ve got me intrigued! I’d love to know more about these three statements:

    • There are small chemical changes that are created by the different angles and bone positions we use.

    • There are mechanoreceptors in the bone that can only feel certain styles of movement.

    • There are body benefits that can only be obtained through walking.

    Can you direct me to resources about these topics?

    Thanks!

    Kathy

    1. Hi Kathy,
      I’d start by reading many (many) of the posts here — they have the information you are looking for. Perhaps start with the bone ones. And then the posts on kids and walking. Most people have heard of “weight bearing” but need to know more about what that means, physics-wise… Start reading and searching and see what you come up with! Or, you can grab some graduate-level text books on osteogenesis, but I’m thinking the blog is a more realistic place to start…

  4. When my kids were little we would go on walks in the woods (we live in the woods 🙂 I had a 2 yr old baby, a 4 year old and a 5 year. My 5 year old could walk easily for 3 or 4 miles but the 3 year old would get tired quickly. I had a stroller so I would have the baby and the 4 year old take turns resting. Three of us enjoyed it quite a lot!

    my middle child still doesn’t like walking, even 6 years later, but she loves to roller blade.

  5. Great post!

    If anyone is looking for ways to motivate their kids to walk more, Geocaching has been it for us. My kids don’t mind long walks or rainy weather if there are caches to be found. Sometimes I have to carry my two-year-old a bit, but then she is good to get down and go again. My five-year-old begs to go and begs for “just one more cache.”

    So yeah, sometimes they really do get a sticker after each walk 🙂

  6. Great blog post! Good ideas! I so totally agree that children actually are happier when they walk, when they are “made” to do something they think they won’t like, especially when you as a mom (or dad) make it fun, and do it together with them.

    I have seven children; all of us like to walk (and other stuff). We live on a 120 acre farm, and it is winter, and there is snow on the ground, and my oldest four children walk almost daily across the length of the farm to get to the woods, where they are felling small trees and building themselves a small log cabin fort. The neighbor boy joins them most days. My two-year-old walks a good distance morning and evening to the barn with his dad, and has been trekking uphill over and over to get to ride his sled down it again. Even my three-week-old stiffens her legs already in response to me touching her feet (she wants to keep up with everyone else, I think).

    This summer my goal is to walk together into town, about 1-2 miles, and reward everyone with something special, like going to the library or dollar store, and make it a habit (extending the boundaries here).

  7. Oh, yeah, Katy? I don’t see YOUR kid walking! Oh, wait, I’ll cut him some slack for a few more months.

    We walk 3.5 blocks to preschool four days of the week. The boys (just turned 5 and 3) are SO poky. It takes about 10 minutes. It’s not that they don’t want to walk, it’s that they want to kick leaves or talk to doggies or watch garbage trucks or eat snow or whatever. I think when the weather gets warmer we will take up your plan and start walking to more “destinations”. We chose to live right in town because we CAN walk to the library, farmers’ market, parks, grocery store, post office, etc. I will have to make a point, though, of also giving them biking time. Otherwise, my older son would rather bike everywhere.

    I like your point about the varying-age group. It makes me want to promote the “walking school bus” next year when we start walking to kindergarten.

    1. I KNOW!! When’s he going to walk already! He’s just 9 months this weekend and it’s probably going to happen in the next couple of weeks or so, and THEN IT’S ON!!! P.S. LOVE the walking school bus! What a community service!

  8. I love this idea. I have three older kids (6, 9, 12) who can walk as long as I can. I love the idea of toddler walk for my 1yo.

    I love seeing Finn grow in your posts. One of these days we’ll even see him with his pants on. 😉

    Elisabeth

  9. Katy- Any suggestions on footwear or an alternative to the “clunky” boots that are so difficult for toddlers to walk in? We live in MN so we’ve got that yucky white stuff and boots seem to be the only option! Any chance you’ll be coming to our area to speak soon????

    1. Soft Star Shoes and some WAAARM socks! People (with kids in the snow) say they’re awesome! No plans for MN yet, but now you’ve convinced me…to wait until Summer!!! I’d love a lake vacation!

      1. My 2.5 year old has the Soft Star phoenix boots and they are fantastic – really warm with sheepskin lining and waterproof too. They also stand up to a lot of abuse!

  10. For us it has always worked well to have a destination or to look for things along the way or make up a game. My 4.5 year old can do 4 miles easy if we do two miles to the big playground then two to get back to lunch, and he’s been doing it since he was three. Most days its not that long of a walk, but we walk a lot most days, so it is easy enough the days that we do. So it definitely is possible!

  11. Great reminder, thanks. We were doing really well with this and my 3 year old was walking further than I’d expected pretty quickly, really building her stamina. But with the start or nursery school again and colds she’s been tired and I’ve let it slide. Need to think of some motivators. Geocaching is a brilliant idea!

  12. When my daughter was in 3rd grade I got so sick of the car culture in our town I started a walking group. I put flyers in about 20 homes in our neighborhood that has children attending the same elementary school offering to supervise walking the kids to school every day come rain or shine. We called ourselves The Grizzlies and had a chant (Jody for those familiar with the military!) that went “We are The Grizzlies! We walk when it’s drizzly. Our hair gets all frizzly but we don’t care!” There was a core group of 8 kids who walked the mile to school every day for three years. Eventually we were joined by parents and dogs and started to wave to satellite groups that popped up. It made my heart glad to see the same group continue walking through middle and high school. One of my several objectives was to cultivate a culture that walking was infinitely cooler than driving mommy’s car two blocks to make it to class.

    1. Love this story — talk about taking action! We have a walking school bus in this town — I encourage everyone to lead that change!

  13. Great post as usual Katy. My son is 2.5 and one thing that works really well for us is that we go out for a whole chunk of the day and we walk most places but with breaks for other activities. For instance today we walked to our music group , then did music and play for 45 minutes; walked to town and had some lunch/ did some chores; walked to the park for a play and then walked home. This amounts to a lot of walking (each walk being 20 -30 minutes at least) but it is not too overwhelwing as it is broken up with other fun stuff. I also find that environment makes a difference to my son: he loves going for a long walk in the woods, or nature reserves where there are bugs, animals and pools to look at/jump in etc. T|his kind of environment is much more fun than walking on a pavement (sidewalk) and so we do ‘nature’ walks as much as possible. It is also fun to take a camera to record what you see -so, to the kids, it becomes less about ‘walking’ and more about exploration. I also find that the more people and dogs we walk with, the more fun my son has, so I defitely agree that walking in groups is something to try and do as much as possible.

  14. As soon as my daughter was confident about walking she wanted out of the pram, so we walked, very very slowly and somedays it drove me nuts, but I figured if she wanted to walk we would walk, now at 4.5 she asks me if we can walk places! So glad I did that now, so easy when they want to walk, rather than making them later.

  15. I wholeheartedly agree with this post, and we frequently go for family walks and short hikes – but my 6-year-old prefers running and skipping, and then she gets tired quickly. She’s old enough now that she can process the “slow down and you’ll be able to walk further” I’ve been yapping in her ear for the past 4 years but I think all the skipping has done something to her – shortened her calf muscles? – and she kind of bounces even when she’s walking. It looks almost like she’s walking with a good running gait – a midfoot strike and using the sproing of her foot to move forward rather than the muscles in her upper legs & bum. Our doctor has referred her to an orthopedic specialist who works strictly with children (we haven’t had an appointment yet) because she thinks that she might have one leg longer than the other. That’s a distinct possibility as I have that too, and I had an odd gait as a child and was evaluated for scoliosis a couple times – but I fear that whatever the orthopedic guy suggests is going to involve some kind of brace or lift that needs to be worn in a shoe – and shoe-free season is coming up.

    We are doing our calf-stretching exercises together and working on flexibility (she seems to have inherited my super-tight hamstrings too) – is there anything else I can do besides nag her to walk on her heels?

    1. I would be hesitant to jump her through medical hoops, especially as she isn’t *sick.* I WOULS strongly (strongly) suggest you find a fascial therapist nearby to help work her legs so she can find new muscles!!

  16. I have to admit to feeling a bit annoyed when you first wrote about walking with children. How do you go for a walk with someone who walks in circles, stops to play with dirt, goes in the wrong direction etc? But the other day I looked at my watch and realized that it had taken us 45 minutes to walk halfway home from preschool. If you walk like an adult it takes 5 minutes, but if you’re two years old and have to stop to eat snow, walk back and forth a lot, climb on rocks etc it takes forever. So I guess we do walk quite a lot, I just hadn’t thought of it as walking 🙂

  17. I would just like to ask this… My daughter is 14 months soon, and has been walking since she was about 11 months. She walks with her feet turned outwards and her feet tilted inwards. I assumed this was because her legs are still turned outwards, as they are when kids are born. Is it?

    Our pediatrics nurse said that she should wear shoes with a really hard back (Sorry, I really don’t know shoe part words in English, I mean the part around her heel) so that she can’t tilt her feet. So we did… What would you recommend?

    1. Wow, I reread my post now, when daughter is in bed, and I don’t get interrupted all the time… Not very coherent. 🙂 I hope you can make sense of it!

  18. I love this. I walk with my 5 children (ages 1-11) almost every day. I admit I am a big wuss about walking if it’s over 90 or under 40 around here, though. But we are about the only people that walk here! Half of the town knows us just because they see us walking everywhere. I get people coming up to me asking me how our walk was the other day or asking where my other kids are (if I’m out with just a few). Can you tell we’re in a small town? Thanks for this!

  19. I was just wondering if all you moms are absolutely getting your own long walks in without kids everyday, in addition to smaller kids-building-endurance walks? Thanks.

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