“But the beauty is in the walking — we are betrayed by destinations.”
― Gwyn Thomas
The first Early Learning & Child Care (EL&CC) program I worked in was in a well-to-do neighbourhood in Calgary, Alberta. In the summer we traveled on rented bus 2-3 times a week for summer field trips. The one after that was a multi-site program and we would share a large 72 seat bus when we headed out and about and sometimes we would walk to the bowling alley down the street. Next I worked at a program with it’s own bus. It was glorious! We could decide the day before that we wanted to go somewhere and we often went park hopping: 1 day- 5 parks. However, it wasn’t until I worked at a series of inner-city programs with limited budgets that I learned the joy of public transit and most of all walking.
We didn’t choose to walk out of altruism or a desire to be environmentally friendly but because we simply couldn’t afford to rent a bus. However, instead of looking at it as a problem we decided to re-frame it as an opportunity to discover our neighbourhood and in the end I would say it is one of the best things we’ve ever done.
At first it was brutal! No one had proper walking shoes, children were everywhere, and none of us were in shape. So we started with short walks and increased our distance a bit every day until we could walk 40 minutes or more to our destination and 40 minutes back. We established better walking routines (adult at the front, adult in the middle, adult at the back), we learned to sing and tell stories and play I Spy or “which-house/car-do-i-want-to-be-mine-when-i-grow-up” as we walk. We learned to give the ones-who-wander-off the important jobs of carrying back packs, pulling the wagon, hefting the water jug, or spritzing the line with water when we wait for the walk signal. We geocache and we’ve been known to have an impromptu sidewalk dance party while someone ties their shoe. The point at which we learned to enjoy the journey was when it stopped being a chore and became the best part.
I love the work of Jane Jacobs, an urban planner who believed that the best way to create a safer community is to make it a vibrant community. She said that people who are out in their yards, walking the streets, and talking to their neighbours create an environment that is unfriendly for crime and violence. The streets that we walk on are often littered with broken glass, debris and various hazards. There are empty lots, abandoned houses, and the occasional sex-worker or gang member. But this is where the children live and walk every day. So instead of staying in we learn how to watch for the hazards and how to avoid them. We discuss the safe places and we sometimes avoid certain places-if we can. After years of doing this the community is used to seeing us traipse around the ‘hood in our matching shirts, pulling our wagon and singing our songs. We know the neighbours and they know us and as a result we all feel safer.
Now as I look at it from a more administrative view point I see that as well as the economical benefits, it is a no-brainer curriculum wise. Children that are walking are healthier and learning important life skills. A good walk is full of teachable moments and opportunities for ECE’s and children to develop relationships. In fact I think we can add this to the list of unsung job perks- how many people have a job that pays them to ?
If you want to hear more about walking, I would recommend listening to this CBC-Radio piece on walking (it’s near the end) and checking out Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit.