Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why I love to walk with my kiddlet.

I recently got back from a wonderful trip to Newfoundland where I was visiting my family.  I love it so much there, not only because it's my home, also because it speaks to a really human part of me.  It's a place where I feel acutely aware that couches and cement aren't part of the "natural order" of things.  The primal human in me feels a little more at home in the setting of looming cliffs and close trees.  As my daughter grows up, it's important to me that she gets to spend time in actual nature.  I feel like it's essential for her development as a biological human, if that makes sense.  She has to know where she came from, what she would have called home 40,000 years ago.  When we go walking here around the house, it's mostly on paved trails with the distant sound of 18 wheelers rumbling down the road.  In Newfoundland, there are rugged trails meandering high into the cliffs, old trees creaking in the wind, and the rhythmic "shhhh... shhh ... shhhhh" of the ocean meeting land far below.  It feels really untouched and authentic (because it is).

It's actually really important for a child's physical development as well to be able to wander around in environments like this.  So while we were in Newfoundland we took Myriam for her first 2 real hikes.  Though she's only been walking for 6 months or so, she didnt' have much trouble adjusting to the uneven ground beneath her feet.  In a super soft leather shoe, she could feel every pine needle under her heel, and her foot could splay like a hand as it formed to the shape of a root or rock.  All the muscles in her little feet worked in harmony to keep her vertical (most of the time).  1 hour, and over 200 pictures later, she finally asked to come up for a rest in my arms, at which point I had to carry her over the same bumpy terrain until we got back to the beach.  Luckily I was wearing my own thin soled moccasins, and didn't worry about falling down.

It's really important for babies and young children to start going on walks early in their life.  Basically, as soon as they can walk they should walk.  A Lot.  Children gain mass very quickly, and it's essential that their muscles get a chance to develop at the same rate.  Babies are born with the ability to hold themselves up, but if we start them off right away with passive positioning (car seat, bouncy chair, cradled in your arm) then they gain mass but do not get any muscle development along with it.  That means that the muscle they have is no longer strong enough to hold them up.  It's the same for their legs.  They should go for a walk every single day, for as long as it takes for them to reach their limit.  Some days it's gonna be 10 minutes around the block, some days it might be 45 minutes before they need a break.  Don't shy away from difficult terrain either.  Just let them do it.  That way they're building their endurance and strength, their muscles will never be too weak to support them.

Don't forget that their little feet are always growing and developing too, so be sure to keep them out of stiff, bulky shoes and in non-restrictive thin soled footwear. That will give the foot muscles a chance to develop properly as well.   And never EVER let your kid wear shoes that are too small. 

Getting our kids out walking does amazing things for all of you!  It's so great for your body, but it also creates some wonderful memories.  I know it's one of the things I remember most about my childhood.  Walking with my mom on a rock beach on a sunny summer afternoon, padding along after the first snowfall in the dark singing Christmas carols, scooting over to the park after work with mom and dad to take a walk in the back trails.  It's something we still do to this day when we're in the same city, and I'm almost 30 years old now.  That's more than 25 years of creating something special with my folks.  And check me out now, repeating the cycle with my own chicklet!

Start young.  Don't mind the weather.  Dont' mind the time.  Find exciting places.  Walk the same boring route.  Go with friends.  Go for hours.  Go for 10 minutes.  Go as often as your kid asks.  No one's ever said "well that walk was a waste of time" (unless they're stupid).  No one's ever said "I wish I spent less time walking with Mom and Dad and more time watching tv alone in my room."  No one's ever said "We should have spent more time in the car." 

Thanks a lot to my dad who spent this walk with a camera stuck to his face.  I really appreciate it.  :)


  1. What a beautiful post, and a beautiful little girl.

  2. Beautiful post, and a powerful idea. The pictures tell your story very well.

    Most Americans have very few opportunities to walk in such a proprioception-rich territory very frequently. Our agreements as a society require that city dwellers put sidewalks in front of our houses -- and to repair them if some tree root puts more than a half-inch discontinuity in the concrete.

    All of those suburban bumps have literally gotten litigated out of existence; the terrain is boring. I invented a phrase to describe this unfortunate development: The tyranny of the smooth and flat. It's part of a larger problem: the tyranny of the coddling. We're slowly realizing that all of the coddling (e.g., Air Jordan shoes) seriously undermines our biological systems.