October is International Walk to School Month. I confess. Despite my fervent walking enthusiasm and advocacy, I really don’t like walking the kids to school. Getting to school is a shouty rush with no time for dawdling or detours. It’s the same boring walk day in day out. For us, the route involves grey, traffic heavy, dog poo strewn streets. We battle for the pavement with all the other commuting pedestrians while lugging school bags. Also, I have three daughters but disappointingly only two hands and a pitiful inability to hold three simultaneous conversations. Consequently someone is always feeling jostled, interrupted or ignored. And inevitably it rains, seemingly all the time.
To survive we have developed a number of games over the years. Here are six of our more popular ones. These have been instrumental in keeping us distracted, moving and communicating in a friendly, or at least more tolerable, way. Perhaps your school walk is also tedious and uncomfortable and these games may help you too:
- Going on a Bear Hunt. If you have a child, you will doubtless be familiar with this story. When my girls were younger we would act out the scenes as we went on a bear hunt. This involved pretending to push through wavy grass, squelch through mud, or wade through water. The girls then took over and we upgraded the imaginary terrain. Favourites included swimming through pink milkshake, running and dodging a rain of lollipops, being chased by a scary dinosaur or stomping through chocolate mud. Critically it keeps children moving forward and can be changed or added to every day.
- Animal Alphabet. Starting with any letter in the alphabet, each of you has to think of an animal starting with that letter. When you say ‘now’ everyone says their animal at once. The aim is to avoid saying the same animal as anyone else. And then move on to the next letter. This keeps everyone distracted and can be played with a group in short bursts so that you can concentrate for road crossings and other obstacles.
- Spotting Games. No list of walking games would be complete without the spotting game. In order to play at once, I give each of my girls something to count over a certain distance (perhaps from the bus stop to home) and we can then compare who was able to count the most of their subject during that time. Subjects include To Let/For Sale signs, buses, bicycles, pushchairs or animals. Urban animals is particularly good for getting children to notice things as it encompasses birds, fish tanks in passing windows, cats and dogs or insects. For younger children, rainbow spotting can pass some time. That is, find things that are red and then orange and then yellow and so on. These are great games for getting children to look all around and become aware of and engaged with their environment.
- Rhyming Sentences. This one requires turn taking for a group. Give your child a word and ask them to come up with a sentence with two words that rhyme with the word in it. For example, I give one of my girls the word ‘sink’. She makes the sentence ‘I think your face is pink’.
- License Plate Game. I particularly like this game as when my girls get engrossed in it I can have a moment of quiet space in my head as I walk. This works well when you have to walk past many parked vehicles. Find a car, any car, and read the license plate. Take the last letter on that license plate. Now look for another license plate that has this letter on it. Now take the last letter on that license plate and do it all again. For example, if the first license plate is ‘BJ57 TWM’, look for a license plate with the letter ‘M’ in it. If you found ‘BD51 SMR’ you now look for a plate with the letter ‘R’ in it. And so on. If you get in a tangle or a loop use the first letter of the plate in your search instead. Play until the children get bored!
- Bicycle Estimates. We walk past a busy cycle lane on part of our journey. We choose a distance between two crossings. Everyone has to make an estimate on how many bicycles will go past us as we walk that distance. We then all count how many bicycles go past. The winner has the closest estimate to the reality. We choose a crossing as the end point so that when the light turns red the bicycles have to stop and we can all agree what number to stop on. This can also be done with cars. It’s a good way of keeping everyone distracted from the walk, engaged and competing.
On the upside, walking my girls to school has developed a walking habit and beyond this daily grind (ugh) we now enjoy many family wanders. Do share your ideas for surviving the school walk or tried and trusted games for tedious, uncomfortable walks with children.
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