How strollers and car seats train our kids to be passive, uninquisitive, and fat.
We know how to walk when we’re six weeks old, but we lack the muscle tone and coordination to actually do much about this — it’s like being given a bicycle, then told you’ll get the wheels in a few months.
Fortunately, at this age we also lack the verbal skills to yammer endlessly about life’s obvious injustices.
Then, at about a year old, we take our first step, whereupon several complex processes begin, starting with a long negotiation with gravity. We stand clinging to an adult’s pant leg, then release and start to pitch forward. One leg swings out, and then another, and — whoa! — we lurch a step or two. Fall, repeat. Writing in 1863, the polymath Oliver Wendell Homes made walking sound like ad copy for a new PlayStation 4 game: “Walking is a perpetual falling with a perpetual self recovery,” he wrote. “It is the most complex, violent, and perilous operation, which we divest of its extreme danger only by continual practice from a very early period of life.”
Once we work out basic mechanics of forward motion, walking becomes a vehicle for developing the mind. We explore and find things. We learn about landmarks and anchoring. We develop our working memory, since it’s essential that we keep our destination and routes in mind as we navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of multiple distractions. (“Memo to self: Ignore interesting old tissue under coffee table. Continue onward to sleeping dog and throw self on it.”.
Independent movement is also an essential part in our social and emotional development — it’s in part how we learn about establishing and carrying out plans of our own, of learning to be ourselves. A number of studies have arrived via different routes at the same conclusion: Independent mobility doesn’t just coincide with dramatic changes in our behavior. Walking actually causes our behavior and thoughts about the world to change.
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