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Sidewalk Hiking

Sidewalk Hiking

I could just as easily title this Sidewalk Hiking post: “Sidewalk Skipping” or “Urban Walks.” The point is that walking around your neighborhood counts as a hike.

No matter what anyone else says! It counts.

This is part of my Hummingbird Parenting blog series. When I introduced Hummingbird Parenting, I talked about a playground parenting style that might remind you of a hummingbird quietly sitting nearby and letting nature play happen. By staying small, and gradually more distant as children grow, parents can avoid interfering in free play, yet remain present to creatively obey societal norms, liability & legal requirements, and to zoom in when safety is an issue. Finally, I set out the premise that this blog series will grapple with today’s parental challenge of simply having fun outdoors without feeling any pressure to achieve or perform according to anyone else’s expectations or agenda.

sidewalk hiking wet sidewalk

Sidewalk hiking is such a great way to have fun outdoors.

And before we go through a whole series of posts where I’m laying out disclaimers and qualifying my statements to fit everyone, I’ll just say that not all of these Hummingbird Parenting posts will resonate with you.

For instance, I’ve lived in places without sidewalks. In North Carolina, my husband and I literally risked our lives walking the roads nearby our apartment since they lacked the safety of a sidewalk. We’ve visited friends in Cave Creek, Arizona — where not only is it a million degrees in summer, but in the short walk from the house to their backyard pool jumping cholla cactus flew onto our clothes and we were in real danger of a rattlesnake encounter.

Yeah, two places you don’t really want to walk around with a fidgety 2 year old.

In Alaska, we backed off from a moose who surprised us on a boardwalk hike. Wildlife encounters happen right in your neighborhood when you live in Alaska.

But the point here is – find a place you feel safe going for a walk and then . . . go for a walk there.

You might think there’s nothing “nature-y” happening, but there is! In preparation for this post, I brainstormed with my kids and husband about what things we’ve noticed on our walks to school or to the store. Even I was surprised by the long list of memories we came up with:

sidewalk hiking nature list

To summarize our list, we’ve witnessed:

  • Insects
  • Wild plants
  • Gardens and fruit trees
  • Birds
  • Local wildlife
  • Weather
  • Seasons and seasonal changes
  • Geology (rocks, erosion)

And in the process, we’ve met neighbors and felt a little more connected to our community.

All you’re really doing on this sidewalk hiking play trip is going outside and noticing things. A big benefit of these easy hikes for me is the joy of noticing what my kids are noticing.

sidewalk hiking nature art

Perfect for Strollers

Sidewalk Hiking is perfect for strollers. With a baby or toddler, you can watch where their attention lands and narrate what you’re seeing. Just chattering away with your little one gives them such a gift of connection.

Not only are you connecting to each other, there are tons of developmental benefits they get from this kind of interaction with you.

sidewalk hiking - stroller

According to Zero to Three, “a child’s brain undergoes an amazing period of development from birth to three — producing 700 new neural connections per second.” 700 connections per second! So without even being purposeful about your kids having a “learning experience” — it’s happening just by interacting with the world around them.

In some strollers, babies are facing you and watching your expression as you experience the world. That’s fun for them, too! Your face makes different expressions when you are outdoors on a hike vs. when you are working on chores at home vs. looking at a screen.

And it only takes minimal effort! You just go outside, walk around, and basically hang out together. I guarantee you will treasure these hikes together.

Let the Kids Lead You

When they are older and out of the stroller — I tend to let the kids lead. Giving your children power over whether you turn right or left, or whether you should choose uphill on the way out or on the way back is a great way for you to take a break from the drudgery of daily decision-making while granting some independence to your child. They usually take this responsibility very seriously and the logic that goes into their choices is, again, a joy to witness.

Sometimes, you’ll find they are reluctant to take it on. Maybe they are afraid to do it wrong? Or that you will automatically override their decision? Here’s an example of “The Stick Game” which might come in handy for the reluctant young hiker. The stick game happened on a wide dirt path, but you could easily figure out a variation of Follow the Leader on the sidewalk, too.

When you become a regular Sidewalk Hiker, it will feel natural when you eventually hit the trail at a local park or when you want to go exploring on a family vacation.

Talking Tweens & Teens

Sidewalk Hiking encourages communication. The beauty of this simple activity is that since there is no prep, you can do it much more often than you would attempt a wilderness hike.

Sidewalks give just enough space to walk side-by-side. It takes some of the pressure off conversation because you don’t necessarily have to make eye contact. There’s a rhythm to the strides and an immediate relaxation that comes from being outdoors. It’s hard to explain the magic that happens, but I tried to in this post about “How a Simple Stroll Turned Into My Dream Date.” It’s from when my kids were much younger, but the same connections happen now that they are older.

The whole point at this age is to either leave the devices at home or put them on Do Not Disturb (on an iPhone, you just drag up the bottom menu and hit the icon with the moon sliver). You BOTH need to do this before you walk out the door. Taking this simple step says: “What you have to say is important to me. I won’t let distractions get in the way.”

It’s saying: “In this fast-paced life, you will need to find a healthy balance between being reachable & taking time off. Turning off your phone for a break is one way to achieve that balance.” And, finally, it’s saying: “We don’t even need to talk. Hiking together and getting some shared time away from our hectic schedules is enough for me.” (You get that you won’t actually SAY those things, right? Just the simple act of choosing to focus your attention for that short 15 minutes or half hour hike says it.)

Your time can be the greatest gift at this age — and the outdoors provides an effective distraction-free backdrop for meaningful interactions.

Theme It

Simplicity is the essence of Sidewalk Hiking. When we start talking about themes, we get into sweaty palm, eye-rolling Pinterest territory. However, in a future post, I’ll cover easy activities that you don’t even need to write down to remember!

sidewalk hiking foxborough trail

Sidewalk Hiking in Orange County

Hummingbird Parenting Challenge

This blog series is an exploration of parenting strategies that give our kids the gift of unstructured play. What can WE do — within our parental comfort zones — to give our children the freedom to play?

Share your #hummingbirdparenting stories with me. I’m at @ocplayparks on Instagram or @planwritepost on Instagram/Twitter.

sidewalk hiking pin

laguna niguel main playground
Laguna Niguel Regional Park
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