For Earth Day, why not start a transportation growth chart for your family?
In 2013, April 22 is a Monday. No matter: You can get a head start with this family activity on the preceding Sunday when roads are quiet. For Earth Eve, Earth Day, and thereafter, abandon your car as often as you can. Take your family out and challenge yourself and your children to see how far they, and you, can go from your house (and back) on human power.
Take in the air. Enjoy the neighbourhood at ground level and at a human pace, and admire the things you would never even see, hear, or smell, from inside a car: a cool chime, bugs going about their business, the neighbour's cat, the neighbour herself, birds, all the early flowers pushing up everywhere in exuberant colour.
If you go walking, bring a stroller for the youngest ones: when they get tired they have a refuge and can still come along while the older children continue on.
Keep track of your range on a walking growth chart, a two-dimensional version of the door frame where you might notch your children's height as they grow: Take a map of your town; mark your house on it. From time to time, map the farthest place your children have walked to; you will end up with a visual history of their expanding range.
This could be as simple as a fold-out paper map with marks and dates written on it, perhaps colour coded for each of your children. If you are electronically savvy it could be a google based map with photos serving as milestones.
If biking is your thing, you don't have to wait for your children to develop the required balance: you can bring them on your own bike. There are bike seats even for infants starting at 9 months; you hook the seat on the handle bars, and have your child between your arms for the ride where you can keep an eye and have a chat.
[I know: there are no helmets to be seen in this picture, which came from the child seat pages of a Dutch bike site. While in the US helmets are still indispensable, in those places where biking is not considered an extreme sport, everybody bikes, and no-one wears a helmet.]
Once your children are off training wheels, you can start a biking growth chart for them where you can watch their range grow. For us, one moment of triumph came when we could get home without getting off and pushing the bikes up the (not so big) hill.
A biking chart needs to be quite a big larger than a walking chart. In principle, the continent is the limit; I have in mind the extreme case of an ex-colleague who likes to partake, for fun, in long-distance adventures like the Boston-Montréal bike marathon.
As they grow, we've taken our children farther afield (with ongoing road instruction), and eventually let them go on their own. But not before they have passed my road test: they ride ahead of me, and I watch them negotiate road crossings, car traffic and pedestrians. My test is much more demanding than most DMV driver's tests: they pass it for a specific part of the neighbourhood only if they can go through it on three separate occasions, without me calling out for them to stop or look or wait.
Mine have taken a few years to progress from the driveway, to the stop sign, to the friends around the corner, to around the block, and so on, until now CelloPlayer can bike to the library unaccompanied. I still often come along, because I also like the library, and to check up on the road skills. That last bit makes it easier for me to let go, because I see that CelloPlayer is sensible about it and will make it back home even without me.
(Is it hard to let go? -- Dude: is the sky blue?).
You may also like:
1. For Earth Day, pledge to turn off your TV