I have a thing about children knowing their neighborhood – really knowing it – from the cracks in the sidewalks to the fire hydrants and stop signs, from the neighbor’s house five doors down that’s decorated for every occasion to the older senior citizen who’s always at her window, ready to wave.
This connection to where children live, these on-going observations and awareness create a significantly strong sense of belonging, confidence, and meaningful relationship to the immediate real world around them.
What’s there to look at some might wonder. Nothing much goes on in our neighborhood. Leave it to a slow pace and perceptive children to help you find out. When there’s nowhere special you have to be, no time frame you have to meet, the walk in the neighborhood will establish itself as a relaxed, interactive family activity. Done often, it will instill familiarity, bonding, comfort and the joy of discovery together.
As soon as your children are able to walk, leave the stroller behind. It’s the act of walking, looking, stopping, bending, picking up, pointing, asking questions that is the purpose of this walk. It’s not to get somewhere fast or to get it over with. It is to capture and appreciate the simple pleasures and treasures right on your block.
There’s no agenda or check-off list when beginning your neighborhood walks, other than leaving your cell phone behind. Just do it. Things will evolve spontaneously. Neighbors seeing you pass by often will recognize you and stop and say hello. Children will learn their limits; they can run ahead to Mrs. Jones’ house, then stop and wait or know that it’s okay for them to climb up and down the three sidewalk steps at the brick house. They’ll remember where the best puddles for splashing form after a heavy rain and that it must be Thursday because the trash cans are out.
You don’t get acquainted with the neighborhood animals zooming by in the car. Watching squirrels at work and play, observing a bunny sit motionless beside a sheltering bush, greeting the local dogs also out walking with their families in the neighborhood, waiting to see the first robin of the season is just plain fun.
Providing our children with this simple opportunity of neighborhood walks is a gift that will resonate in them throughout their life. It brings relief from the constant frenetic pace and virtual world we find ourselves in and provides a firm grounding on which to later explore the world.