Good morning! For the last three months, I’ve had to become a morning person again, after five plus years of getting up at 8am. Our son has to leave for school by 7:40, which means we need to be up by 6:40 in order to get breakfast cooked and eaten, teeth brushed, and have him ready to go on time. In the beginning, I wasn’t a fan. But I’ve come to really enjoy my mornings. Our son either rides his bike to school, or rides the school bus. He’s in half day kindergarten, so there’s a bus that picks him up in the morning, but no bus at lunchtime to bring him home. If he takes the bus, he walks home (I meet him at school and walk with him). He likes both options, so we change it up from day to day.
If he rides the bus, we walk roughly a quarter of a mile down the street to the bus stop. It takes about five minutes, and we get to hold hands and walk along, getting a few last minutes of chatting before he heads to school. If his little brother is awake, he comes along too, either walking or on his tricycle. By the time I get back home, I feel invigorated and eager to start my day – amazing what just a half mile walk can do to get things off to a good start.
If he rides his bike, I either bike with him or run with the jogging stroller if our little one is awake by the time we need to leave (if he’s still sleeping, I let him sleep, since my husband is home working while I bike to school with our son). It’s less than three quarters of a mile each way, so it takes us less than 10 minutes to get there, even with a kid-size bike leading the way.
I am always amazed at how few kids and parents bike or walk to school. Most of the kids at our bus stop are driven to the stop, and they all live closer to the bus stop than we do (we’re at the very end of the street, so everyone else has less than three blocks to go). It’s not a time issue, because I see them drive to the bus stop and then sit there in their cars for a few minutes, waiting for the bus to arrive. Lately it’s normally in the high 20s or low 30s in the morning, so it’s not like we’re in Siberia… the weather is brisk and chilly, but not miserably cold. And yet nobody seems to want to get out and just walk or bike for a few minutes. What’s up with that?
When we go back to school to pick up big brother at lunch time, our little one often rides his tricycle to get there. Other parents are amazed that a two-year-old rides his trike that far without any difficulty (it takes him about 15 – 20 minutes each way). And when our older son started riding his bike without training wheels when he was four (and could easily ride 5+ miles at that point without getting tired), people asked how he was able to ride so well and so long at such a young age. The answer is pretty simple: experience and habit. And the flip side is true as well… if you hardly ever get anywhere under your own steam, your kids will not be used to doing so. Which means that an outing to somewhere like the zoo where they’re suddenly expected to walk a long way is likely to wear them out and result in a meltdown. (one other thing we did… with both of our boys, we brought the trike in from the garage and let it be an indoor toy when they were about 18 months old. They could push it around, and eventually start riding it around the dining room table. That’s how both of them learned to pedal, and we made it easy by having the trike readily available at all times. So by the time they were two, it wasn’t tough to transition to using the trike as transportation).
For our boys, biking (or triking!), walking or running to get somewhere is as normal as breathing. It’s just how we get around. Walking and biking don’t wear them out unless we go a very long way. Our older son can hike 5 – 8 miles in rough terrain, and even our two-year-old decided recently that he was tired of the hiking backpack and walked about half of a six mile hike at the end of the summer. They know that we only use the car if we’re leaving our town, which we do maybe once a week. They’re used to bundling up with coats and hats and gloves, and we have thin balaclava-style hats that fit under bike helmets to make winter riding no big deal (thanks to thrift stores, our whole family has a very good collection of high quality winter gear that we got for just a few dollars each). Our son has been in school for three months now, and he’s gotten home by biking or walking every day but one (when I picked him up in the car because we were heading straight from school to a birthday party in another town). Our bike rides and walks and runs to and from school are one of our favorite parts of the day. It’s not an inconvenience or something that we do just because we know we should. We aren’t wishing we had the car – we’re glad we get to be outside, talking about leaves and worms and sight words and PE games and whatever else happens to come up.
While we’re enjoying the brisk fall air and crunching leaves as we walk, I notice other kids and parents waiting in their cars until the very last second before the bus pulls up. And when we bike to school, we see very few other kiddos doing the same. And yet getting outside for a few minutes is an awesome way to start the day! It’s fun to go for a walk. It’s fun to go for a bike ride. It gets some excess energy out before the school day starts, making it easier for kids to sit down and concentrate. And it’s a great time to bond with your little ones without much in the way of distractions (leave phone home, or at least in your bag and out of sight).
I know that some parents drop their kids off and then head straight to work. But I also know that a lot of parents are driving their kids very short distances to the bus or to school and then returning home to get ready for their own day, leaving for work a little later. In our son’s class, nearly everyone is either a stay-at-home or work-at-home parent, or has a flexible or non-traditional job schedule, since we all have to be at school at 11:20 to pick up our kids.
So here’s my challenge for you. If you have a kid in school and the school is within a mile of your house, commit to walking or biking for drop off or pick up at least once a week. Or if it’s not school, go somewhere else on foot or by bike: the bank, the post office, the library, the grocery store… wherever you normally run errands. You might find that you enjoy it so much that it becomes your new normal. It’s not a chore, it’s a chance to get outside – which a lot of us don’t get to do that often – and enjoy the day. Coats and umbrellas and hats and winter gear mean that the weather isn’t really an obstacle, especially if we’re only talking about a very short distance. Have fun with it!
Speaking of getting around on foot, Zulily has Vibram Barefoot shoes on sale right now. I have a pair that my brother got at a thrift store, and I love them (I just threw them in the washing machine when I got them, and they were good as new). I wear them whenever I’m running somewhere that’s less than about 4 -5 miles round trip, and they’re great. I hardly ever go farther than that these days, so they get a lot of use. If you want some and haven’t been as lucky as I was to get a thrifted pair, the Zulily sale makes them a lot more affordable than normal.