Walking and the Development of Children's Autonomy

September 11, 2012

Autonomy of movement. Growing up in  Wading River, I walked almost everywhere. To friends’ houses; to the beach; to explore; at Halloween. I wasn’t driven everywhere and there were no play dates. My parents had a rough idea of where I was at any given time, but only a rough one. 

I’ve been trying to remember what such autonomy of movement did for me as a kid and what the lack of such autonomy has had on my own children. I’m sure that the ability to go places without adult intervention--to choose the path I’d take, whether I’d investigate this or that on the way, had a big impact on me. Not only the self-reliance to get from  point A to point B, but the ever-present imaginative requirements of how--and when--to get there.

Wading River

(photos: Wading River, NY: map of where I walked, growing up including, at right, the old "Lilco" path which we would walk from Wading River to Shoreham (and beyond, sometimes).

Walking places seems like the most minor of things, and in some ways I feel like an old-timer crowing about the virtues of pumping one’s own water at the village well, but the more I pack my kids into the car to go half a mile to their friend’s house, the more I wonder: what are they losing as I make an offering, once again, to the gods of Risk?