Penny Walks

Penny Walks

This summer, we talked about slow parenting, where you try to slow way down with your children and let them take the lead. Well, a reader named Clare commented about the concept of penny walks: “You walk to the end of your street and toss a coin. Heads you go this way, tails the other. Do the same at the next junction and the next. Who knows where you’ll end up.” How sweet is that? We’ve been taking penny walks regularly ever since. The other day, we went around our neighborhood…

Penny Walks

We flipped the penny and headed down the street.

Penny Walks

Since penny walks are all about taking things in, we stopped many times along the way to check out motorcycles, scooters, bikes and vehicles of all kinds.

Penny Walks

Then we stopped for a sip of milk at the deli across the street. We’ve always said that Anton resembles an old man (since the day he was born!) and here he fits right in, straight chilling with his cohorts.

Penny Walks

Then we flipped again, and…

Penny Walks

Penny Walks

The penny led us by a neighborhood pizza place. Since the boys were hungry for lunch, we got two slices of square “Grandma,” our favorite of the NYC slices.

Penny Walks

Finally, on our way home, we passed a stoop sale, where the boys tested out the toy cars.

Penny Walks

That’s it! Penny walks have led to such low-key adventures. Have you ever taken one? Thanks, Clare, for the idea!

P.S. Six words to say to your child, and 21 surprising parenting tips.

(Photos by Olivia Rae James. Thanks, Olivia! My sweater is from Madewell, plus my trusty Converse. Anton is wearing Mabo leggings and an American Apparel shirt, and Toby is wearing a Polarn o Pyret shirt and American Apparel leggings.)

  1. Jessica says...

    Old post, but I love this idea. I did similar with the kids, rotating between asking them left or right turns at every intersection, but this allows for a true randomness. Because once they had their mental map, it was hard for it to take any random path. Doing it in the suburbs will certainly be a different experience, but I would love to see what we can find.

  2. I love this idea! What a sweet way to share an “adventure” with your kiddos. I feel like as mamas, sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in the places we have to be, the times we’re supposed to be there….but it’s so important to just stop and enjoy the little things and learn to explore TOGETHER :) :)

  3. Neena says...

    We recently moved (last August) and with two teeny kids it isn’t always easy to go out and explore but yesterday evening we took our first penny walk and it so much fun. My partner and I had the chance to discover the neighbourhood while my eldest was exited to toss the coin at every corner and my youngest happily stared at her big sister from the pram :-)

  4. Maria says...

    This is such a great idea, I don’t have kids but I want to some day

  5. I absolutely adore this! I’ve never heard of the penny walk idea, but we do a lot of these leisurely types of walks with the kids in the warmer months and its our favorite way to spend time together. This makes me want to be more intentional about it year round!

  6. i adore the photo of him w/the old men!

  7. Jenny says...

    My family and I did this when I was little too! We called it a “penny hike.” Flipping heads always meant turning right and tails left :) Another fun memory- we used to cut out squares of wax paper and sit on them as we went down slides at the park. We’d end up FLYING down the slides and my dad would catch us at the bottom.

  8. Kirsten says...

    This is such a sweet idea. When I used to nanny full time in my younger days, one of my favorite games to play with the kids when the weather was terrible was to take a handful of pennies and hide them around the house. Then we’d go on a ‘treasure hunt’. Sometimes I’d even draw a map. Such a thrill for fifty cents or less.

  9. Off topic, but merits mention: your butt looks amazing in those jeans!

  10. What a wonderful (and simple) idea! My boys (toddlers) and I do a lot of ‘puddle hunting’ in our neighborhood, but this is a wonderful option throughout the year. Thanks for such a solid idea to savor every moment of my littles’ lives…

  11. Kelsey says...

    Growing up, I had a “babysitter” in the summers until the time I could could drive because my parents both traveled for work. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago where the space is endless, so we would play the penny game in the car and end up in the furthest corners of Illinoise. Your post brings back such fun memories :)

  12. Chelsie says...

    This reminds me of my PopPop’s “money trail”. We used to go camping at a state park and he would take us on walks down the “Money Trail”. Little did we know he was dropping coins on the way in so when we turned around to walk back out if the trail we would find the change. If it was always fun and exciting for 43 cents. It is a great memory I will cherish forever

  13. Katie says...

    I did this all the time as a kid! As an adult I learned another method that I’ve even done on bike rides. Play rock, paper, scissors. If the person on the left wins you turn left, if the person on the right wins you turn right, and if there is a tie you go straight.

  14. This is the most precious post I have ever seen! I am putting the idea of penny walks in my back pocket, def something I want to do with my kids once I have some!

  15. So much of your blog makes me want to file away these tips for if/when I am a mother one day. I absolutely love the sweetness and tender simplicity of this.

  16. Monica Alvarez says...

    Such a beautiful hair!

  17. Definitely doing this with my kiddos. They will love it. How cute would it be for a first date, too??

  18. I don’t have kids (yet) but think this is such a great thing to do anyway, whomever you’re with. I was walking around London the other day with my sister and we decided to just slow down and look up because we never do – we rush from Tube to desk to lunch place to desk etc! It was so nice to consciously take in our surroundings and slow things right down. So thanks for sharing your inspiration :-)
    PS loving the mustard sweater… I wonder if it’s available in the UK from wherever it’s from…

  19. Clare says...

    Jo – I’m totally delighted you and your lovely boys went with the idea. How nice to get a mention on the blog too. Enjoy your adventures!

  20. meaghan says...

    I love your lipstick – what brand/color is it?

  21. Megan says...

    Love this! Your relationship with your boys is so precious. You can tell they are just as enamored with you as you are with them! Thanks for the great idea!

  22. Glenda says...

    Love this idea! thanks for sharing!

  23. Oh wow, I LOVE this! Our quasi-suburban-y-ish neighborhood isn’t really conducive to walking – our neighborhood is situated in a dead-end area, and is surrounded by HUGE thoroughfares that don’t have sidewalks and aren’t safe for kiddos – but this sounds really fun to do in the city!

    I think I may try this with my gf during our next round of “backyard” exploring in D.C. – head into the city with no agenda, and walk around using this penny method. So cool!

  24. Love this idea so much! Hahaha at Anton chillin with the old dudes – totally fits right in :)

  25. Ágota says...

    I might do this. Even though I’m 23 and I live in my hometown right now, I feel like if this “method” would take me to a nice place I haven’t been to for ages, I would be so happy. :) Or… I wish to travel to a new place soon, never know. :)

  26. Liz says...

    This is adorable! What a cute idea!

  27. I love this! Thank you for sharing, my 4 year old will love it.

  28. Awww the penny walk seems interesting. Definitely gonna do this when walking my dog, sounds like it will keep the walk interesting.

  29. jane says...

    I do this with my daughter but we don’t use a penny, we take it in turns to decide left, right or straight on! She is thirteen next week and still loves to go for a walk this way : )

  30. Anna says...

    We do this with friends- we love taking strolls around our city and discovering it anew! Only we do this without a penny, but just taking turns when choosing which direction to go at intersections, at the end of the block etc.
    And love, love Anton’s outfit and him hanging out with the elders is just the best :)
    Also adore Olivia Rae James x

  31. Pi says...

    Love your jeans! Where are they from?

  32. Such a sweet idea! I think you managed to get wonderful stops during the penny walk! :) Probably fun to test this out in a big city, where you do not know where you land up! Would be cool to test out..:)

    Beautiful pictures. Have a happy Tuesday!

  33. LOVE this idea!! Wish we had streets to do this in though, your neighbourhood looks a lot more interesting than ours :)

  34. sounds like a lovely way to make memories on a first date. kind of exciting & calm all at once.

  35. Mae says...

    This is so sweet! They are so handsome! I can’t get over Anton’s outfit. LOVE IT!!!!

  36. Rae says...

    Super cute, but I LOVE your top! Can you tell us where it came from?

  37. Mia says...

    I’m about to go on a solo trip to Melbourne (I used to live there as child’s I it familiar and strange at the same time) and I am currently planning new ways to ‘rediscover’ Melbourne and I will be definitely using the penny trick! Best idea ever!

    • Cait says...

      5 cents piece trick over there ;)

  38. This is so sweet!! I can’t wait to do these things with my kids! :)

  39. Millie says...

    Mustard leggings? So sweet! Where did you find those? I think my little guy, Henry, needs a pair!

  40. This is too cute!
    I think I’m gonna do that with… my husband!
    We both work from home and I sometimes force us to take walks in our neighborhood, especially now that the sun sets at 5pm in the Pacific North West and we sometimes spend a whole day without being out in the light!
    But we tend to always walk along the same streets. So it would be fun to try the penny walks!
    Thank you for the tip!

  41. Susan says...

    This is so sweet! I have two boys the same age as Anton and Toby and recognize that look of wonderment Anton is giving his brother holding the car so well :)

  42. Leslie says...

    Fun! But mustard leggings on Anton? He’s awfully cute but that outfit is going to garner you some major flak when he’s older. “Mom I can’t believe you had me wear mustard leggings with a shirt that matches your favorite shirt and walk around in public!”

    • olma says...

      Hey…lay off the mustard leggings!!!
      When he is older, he will realize he was the youngest hipster in town???

    • Geraldine says...

      Really!!! He looks gorgeous and even if he didn’t so what! He will probably look back on those photos and be reminded of all the love and attention he got on his penny walk. I know my kid at 16 when looking back at old photos is much too interested in the story behind them than what he was wearing.

  43. Genius. Love it.

  44. Adorable! I would love to do this for a lot of decisions. Especially Friday night “where to go out to eat” decisions!

  45. Cynthia says...

    Love it! When I take my 2 yo granddaughter for a walk around our residential block, I let her set the pace and lead the way. It has taken us an hour at times b/c she’s gathering rocks, flowers (weeds), eating wild blackberries, wondering about a cat photo she spotted on a telephone pole, and watching water run through a culvert. When I see a parent pull a child through a park or admonish a toddler to hurry it simply breaks my heart. The world is so new and utterly fascinating and these little ones can teach us so much.

  46. There’s a concept in Wall Street investing, taken from a well-known business book, “the random walk.” I used to always call afternoons with my daughter, on the main street of my suburb, “random toddler walks.” You’re adding the concept of probability:). Excellent. And how cute are the boys in their stripes? And Anton’s leggings?!?!?!

    • Random walks are actually a really cool mathematical concept. They occur in physics, and was adopted by financiers and statisticians to describe markovian chains — everything from sports to dynamic utility functions.

  47. Darcy says...

    I love the idea of penny walks….super cute! And Anton with his cohorts was the best!

    But most importantly — how is Anton today? I keep thinking of him and you all since your instagram from yesterday? I hope he is doing much better — I am sure that he is — kids heal and bounce back amazingly fast! I’m sure you are more traumatized now than he is! Thanks for sharing with us!! :-)

  48. Jessica says...

    Reminds me of the weird novel The Dice Man about a psychiatrist who makes all his decisions by rolling dice. I’ve heard of people doing this on vacation….going to a train station and putting a destination on each number and then rolling the dice. Works for restaurants, books, etc. too. Fun for those of us who are indecisive/like adventure.

  49. I don’t have any children, but I love this idea.

  50. Auste says...

    My high school quasi-boyfriend and I would have driving adventures all over San Francisco flipping a coin at red lights. It was so fun exploring parts of the city we never knew of before. I forgot all about it! I will definitely start doing this on walks with my girls.

  51. I’m always a huge proponent when on vacation of allowing yourself to wander unplanned. A penny walk on vacation would be a great way for people who are too nervous to try it to get in on the fun! Kids or not! So cute.

  52. Bethany says...

    What a great idea! Also, your sweater is darling, Jo.

  53. What a nice idea. I loved when we loved downtown and there were interesting things around corners.

  54. Old man resemblance… I wonder if that’s a second boy thing! We had a friend nickname our son Benjamin Button when he was younger–and at 11 he still says things we would expect from an old man.

    I’m totally trying that penny walk idea the next time my husband and I venture out. We usually just pick whatever street we feel like, but this seems like a fun change. (ha, change!)

  55. I can’t wait to try this! (I sure hope our penny walk takes us to pizza. Maybe we’ll need a 2 out of 3 to ensure that we’ll go. That’s not cheating, is it?)

  56. Katie H. says...

    So sweet! Thanks for taking us on your penny walk. Also, I LOVE your sweater. Can you share the brand name or where you got it?

    • Alicia says...

      I love it, too! I saw it a few weeks ago coincidentally – it’s from Madewell!

  57. Sarah says...

    I just love this. This is how I want my husband and I to parent our two boys. (they’re about the same ages as yours). What a great way to spend an afternoon instead of ending up in front of the tv.

  58. Theresa says...

    I love, love, love this!! Thanks for the wonderful idea Joanna and Clare. I can’t wait to start this with our little 18 month old and hope she loves it for years and years to come! I hope Anton is doing better today!

  59. So sweet–I kept thinking “what does the penny have in store for today?”

    When I was a kid, my younger sister and I would take our family dog for a walk and let him lead the way. If he turned, we turned…but it was mostly dictated by smells. Not quite as cute as your penny walks but similar idea. ;)

  60. I love this idea! I am a big advocate for going with the flow and doing whatever inspires you. This is right in line with that.

  61. What a fun idea! I love the idea of low-key adventures. I’ll have to remember this when I have kids. But in the meantime… Joanna- where did you get your outfit? I love it!

  62. Sounds like a great idea, kids or no kids! :) (Though it’s certainly cuter with little ones).

  63. Katharine says...

    I hadn’t heard of the penny walk but it’s a great idea! I love to walk to the end of the street and let my son Bjorn choose which way we head next. He (a new 3) puffs with pride at the responsibility of leading :)

  64. Amy says...

    “Straight chillin with his cohorts”. Best. Line. Ever.

  65. What a great idea! penny walks in the burbs don’t sounds as fun haha! But we are still going to give it a go! I can’t wait to try this next time we are in the city (SF). It will help us explore along with Luna.


  66. meagan says...

    That is a great idea! I have a 7 y.o. and my husband and I test him on walks to see if he could find his way home. We will go for a stroll, and once we are about 10 blocks from the house we ask our son if he can lead us home. Each intersection he has to look around to see if he recognizes landmarks or street names, and then he picks which way to head next. It is fun and it teaches him important lessons on being aware of his surroundings.

  67. what a sweet idea!! this is just one more time that living in a large city makes all the difference! sadly, i’m in the burbs and a penny walk would just get us to another street of houses that looks just like ours :(.

  68. What a great idea! I’m going to try it!

  69. Ohhh Anton and those men on the bench. Heart: melted.