The final blog in this series is about additional safety measures to consider when doing a daily walk. After having many years of experience walking children daily we have seen some patterns emerge in the children’s behavior and some reoccurring situations while out. My staff assistant Beeka Perks helped me come up with some of these FYI’s for your consideration.
Clothing that fits: It’s very important to have clothing that fits for the walk. The shoes need to fit properly or you will have kids tumbling over. If they are too big they trip over the excess material at the toe. If they are too small they hurt their feet.
We require tennis shoes for the walk. We don’t allow any open toed shoes, flip flops, clogs, sandals, or crocs. I provide Keds Velcro shoes for all of my kids so the parents can send them in their favorite shoes without affecting our walk.
Make sure the pant legs on the kids don’t go below the ankle. I have had kids pants either be too long or droop down during a walk and had kids trip forward over their own pants. Also be aware that if the pants are too long and the weather is wet with wet leaves on the ground you can have the kids tripping on the slick leaves or sidewalk. We have also had kids who have tripped on the stairs indoors when the bottoms of their shoes and the wet material at the ankle come in contact with the wood stairs or carpeted stairs. Make sure you remove their shoes and roll up any wet on the bottom before they attempt the stairs.
Don’t allow too many rolls at the wrist. If there is a lot of material at the child’s wrist it can impede a good grip and wrist flexibility where the child is holding onto the stroller.
Their hats must fit flush onto their heads and face. If the cap of the hat starts to lower over their eyes it will affect their line of vision. You can tell from the back if their hat is falling forward because their heads naturally bend down to watch the sidewalk at their feet instead of the sidewalk ahead of them. Stop the stroller and adjust their hats.
Stray Dogs: Stray dogs are the bane of my existence. I seriously can’t BELIEVE how often we run into them when we have the kids out. We’ve had to develop a plan to deal with them because we can’t tell if they are friend or foe. We have to assume they are all a threat to the kids.
When we see one at a distance we just turn back towards the house. We want to be as close as possible to the house as we can in case we need to get the kids back inside quickly. If they approach us from nowhere we stand in between them and the kids and give them the death glare. We do not allow the kids to have any contact with them physically or verbally. If they persist we just bring the kids back in and call animal control to make a record of the situation.
One of my daycare Mom’s is a preschool teacher and she told me about having to carry key chain attached mace with her when she took her group out on walks outside of the school. She came across the situation many times also. I think it’s a great idea but I’m a little nervous about spraying mace around little kids so I haven’t used it before.
Driveways and blind spots: When you are pushing a long stroller and have kids up front a bit you have to remember that the front of the line kids will meet driveways before you do. Watch for cars backing up or cars coming off the street to turn into the driveways. You can’t always hear the motors running or hear the people getting in their vehicle. If there are hedges separating property lines they often block your view of the driveways. Don’t allow your lead kids to get too far ahead of you so you can check what’s going on in the driveways you are crossing. When we are completely unable to see the driveway except for the sidewalk part of it we bring the front kids back to the stroller and ease up as a group until the adult can double check and make sure there isn’t a car pulling out.
Be extra careful during garage sales. This is a perfect storm of driveway turning, distracted drivers, and people parking illegally to get to the closest spot near the sale. People have a tendency to drive past the yard sale and then turn their head backwards as they are checking out the goods. This leaves you with a driver looking the opposite way they are going and often making a quick decision to try to park without really looking at what’s going on around them.
Phones: Take your cell phone with you and keep a full list of all the numbers you need for the kids and police. Parents who haven’t dropped off yet can contact you to see where you are in the neighborhood and you can call for help if something happens.
Stroller break down: We’ve had this happen a few times and it can be very difficult to get the kids back to the house when you have a group of riders that can’t walk. Do routine checks on your stroller and pay attention to anything that is off on the steering or wheels. We’ve learned the HARD way that letting a little creek and pull on the stroller can turn into it breaking down blocks away from the house. If you can afford to have a spare stroller in storage it helps to have a full set of parts available to replace normal wear and tear. I purchased extra wheels and bolts for my main triple stroller and put them up. I also purchased an identical used stroller so I have everything I need to keep it running. The model I use isn’t being made anymore so it’s good to have it on hand.
Distracted drivers: I spoke about distracted garage sale drivers but you also must keep in mind about distracted cell phone drivers. In this day and age it’s very common for people to use their cell phones as they drive. We keep a watchful eye on cars coming our way. We prefer to walk on the side of the street opposite of the traffic direction. This way we can see what is coming at us. The lane we can’t see behind us is on the other side of the street.
We do a drill called “YARD” where we have trained the kids to bolt into the yard wherever we are whenever we shout the word. We train them to go up as far as possible into the yard in a split second. This techniques gives us a quick way to get as far away from the road as possible if we see a driver coming at us that is veering around in the street or driving recklessly.
The kids on the walk: We have a few basic rules of behavior on the walk that we look for to keep the kids from tripping.
We don’t allow them to walk with their hands in their pockets or to have their hands up to their mouths. They must have their arms down and swinging normally front to back. The reason we require this is that kids will go off of balance if they don’t keep that posture when they doing a long steady walk. If their hands are confined in their pockets they won’t be able to catch themselves when they trip and will fall face first. If their hands are up at their mouths they will fall inward towards the stroller when they trip. They need to have a natural walking position in order to maintain a steady pace and have everything going for them if they fall to protect their face and head.
We require them to walk face forward. We don’t allow them to move their body forward and have their heads turned backwards. It only takes a few steps of them not watching where they are going or their body going off balance and them falling forward, to the side, or into the stroller.
Lastly, you may have to deal with adults and children approaching your group when you are out. If you have a pack of kids and walk the same route daily you will find that neighbors will try to engage the kids. Many people out walking or walking their dogs want to stop and talk to them. I personally don’t like this so I discourage it as much as possible. I’m pretty Mama Bear when I have my kids and just want anyone I don’t know as far away from the kids as possible. We have had a few neighbors that have sat at the window waiting to see the kids every day and eventually started coming out. When we see a neighbor having an interest in the kids we just change routes.
My kids are dressed identically when they are out and there is a lot of them so we draw a crowd. My protective nature comes into play and I try to give off the “stay away from my young” vibe when I have them out. We often cross to the other side of the street if we see them coming from afar.
If someone comes out of their house towards the kids or comes along on the sidewalk, I make sure we stop and I get in between them and the kids. A stern body language with the matching face and a positioning of my body between theirs pretty much gives them the idea I DON’T WANT THEM NEAR MY KIDS!!!!!
It’s not that we are unfriendly…. It’s that I don’t trust anyone around them and I sure don’t want someone to have quick access to them. You never know when there’s someone out there who sees us every day who would have bad intentions. I want them to know with every interaction that I’m NOT PLAYIN and they best stay a distance from my babies. The ARE my world and I want them to be able to go out and about without any interference. I will do whatever it takes to protect them and keep them safe.
I hope this series helps you when learning how to take your kids out and gives you a few ideas to incorporate into your routine. The benefits of the daily walk are phenomenal. It’s a bunch of work… especially in the dead of winter when you have to do full winter gear… but it’s SO worth it. It’s a very high bonding time for the kids, sort of like it is when dogs or other animals travel in packs. The time they have to exercise and fellowship with each other out in nature brings peace and solidarity to the group when you bring them back in. It also helps their hunger drive. If you can time it every day before lunch you will have a group of hungry little ones when you get back!! A well exercised group with a full belly will give you a calm play time after lunch and a house full of sleeping babies at nap.