Raising an active toddler: Walkable environment edition

MissC and I are lucky enough to live in a street with a park on the corner. It wasn't something that I thought about when MrC and I bought the house but having a park a hundred metres away has been an absolute god send. What's not so great though, is the complete absence of footpaths on the street meaning there's a rush to get MissC off the road pretty much every time we walk down. Its a quiet street and people are aware that kids play on it, so its not a huge issue but I know this is the sort of that puts people letting their kids walk outside.

Here's some reasons not to:

  • Australian recommendations are that toddlers spend no more than 1 hour sedentary or physically restrained a day. That is they should spend more than one hour in a car seat or a stroller. If you are not maximizing opportunities for them to walk, you will exceed this pretty quickly. Ten minutes each way to the shops, ten minute drive to the park, twenty minutes in the shopping trolley and you're done.
  • Being outdoors is excellent for mood regulation and eye development
  • Incidental exercise such as walking is considered by many to be key for weight management throughout the lifespan.As discussed previously, activity levels tend to track through the lifespan so an inactive toddler turns into an inactive child turns into an inactive teenager.  People who live in walkable environments have been found to have lower BMIs than those who do not.
  • People who live in walkable environments have been found to have higher levels of social capital than those who live in environments which are car orientated. If you want your child to live in an engaged community walking with them to the park or the shop is a great way to start.
  • It saves money
  • Its better for the environment

Of course that is all great if you live in an environment that makes walking easy. I know what its like, we may have a park but I feel like I need to get in the car to do anything else.
So what can you do short of moving.
Well for one you should stay involved with your local council to encourage the building of new parks, prevent the removal of existing parks or green spaces and encourage the provision of footpaths or bikeways where possible. Councils think people want more houses, more concrete and more roads. Tell them they're wrong we want spaces to live in and green spaces where our children can play.

But that's not going to help you now so what else can you do? Well you can start to create your own walkable environment wherever possible.

1. Get rid of the stroller. There is no environment I can think of where they need one. If they can walk, they can walk. Of course you can carry them when requested but your own tiredness will mean they walk more that way than if you were pushing them.
Maybe this one

2. Ignore the comments and use a child leash if roads or crowds are a concern and you can't trust them to hold your hand.

3. Walk them where you can. Can you walk to the corner store for the milk rather than drive to the shopping centre? If you're doing a small shop can you let them walk around the shop with you rather than going in the trolley? Can you walk them to daycare a bit earlier and then come home and go to work rather than dropping them at the door? Sure it takes more time but the exercise is good for you too.
4. Find your nearest park or stretch of green land, hopefully you have one, then go there frequently. Sure your own backyard might be bigger but I bet there is zero chance of them make a new friend there.
5. Teach them road rules young. Take them outside and teach them to stay on the footpath or walk on the curb. Of course you'll have to watch them until they're old enough to have some road sense but you'll be amazed at how much they can understand. At not yet two, MissC knows to walk on the side of the road and get off the road completely when a car comes.

6. Let them have fun (with appropriate supervision). Let them explore at the shops, let them hide behind the trees on the street, let them climb the neighbors sand pile and look for rocks, let them ride their bikes on the footpath or the road. Walking will soon start to feel more like fun and less like a chore for both of you.


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