An Urban Hiker is Born
January 4, 2015

The call came, as it usually does, around 2:43 pm. It was a Monday in mid-November and Riley, age 11, was phoning in to say that he was out of school and on his way home. But this time, he was walking the 14 blocks via Broadway, rather than his usual route along Amsterdam. 
 
His thrill was palpable, but by that Friday, it was overshadowed by a bigger urban-kid experience: walking 25 blocks from his middle school to Halina’s elementary school to meet Daddy at a restaurant where he was lunching with colleagues. That was something. 
 
Why Ride When You Can Walk?
 
Riley’s evolution as an urban hiker happened in the blink of an eye: for the first two weeks of school, a babysitter met him to bring him home on the city bus. (Yellow school buses are mostly for elementary students who live more than a half mile from their school.) After that, he took the bus solo for a week, and then he announced that he wanted to start walking “because it’s healthier to get the exercise.” Indeed it is—as we have always said—and like us, Riley has also discovered that it’s simply more interesting.  
 
The sidewalk is an ever-evolving landscape that you experience differently no matter how many times you walk the same route.  You cannot adequately experience its sights and sounds from the vantage of a bus window, and certainly not its smells—the Korean barbecue truck, the dryer exhaust from an industrial laundry room, and the heavy cologne of a passerby.  Even when it’s raining and his parents recommend just waiting for the bus, Riley prefers to walk, explaining that “it’s fun to walk in the rain”—a sentiment that, in fact, he has expressed many times over the years.  
 
Errands, Air Breaks, and a World Beyond
 
As much as we have always used errands and the need to “get the kids outside” as excuses for family outings, we now find that trips to the mailbox and jaunts up the block—for the sake of going up the block—are good ways to let the kids experience the urban outdoors on their own.  Riley packs his cell phone and off they go on a brief foray on our street.  The “rule” is that they must also take the stairs, rather than the elevator, in our building for extra exercise. These short adventures have proven to be both bonding experiences and tension breakers when an argument over something ridiculous has erupted.  Invariably, when they come back inside after even five minutes out, they are in good spirits with whatever altercation they’d had behind them.  
 
Like every single urban parent we’ve spoken to, we had been dreading the day when Riley (and now someday Halina, who’s only 9) would take the to the city streets on his or her own. Parents with children older than ours all said it would happen early in sixth grade but we simply couldn’t believe it. Maybe for them it did, but not for us!  But now here we are, four months later and already realizing—with a mix of nervousness and anticipation—that someday soon enough our children will be introducing us to their favorite walks and places in the city they call home.  
 
 
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Feed the Birds: Set up a bird feeder (you can make a simple one by spreading peanut butter on a pinecone). See which types of birds come; have the kids keep a log of their visits.



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