I have a confession to make. November is not a month I can proudly host this blog. Typically miserable, wet, dark, cold weather, combined with a couple of illnesses to start off the winter season has led to a bad habit of hiding out at home and driving between dry and warm locations. The kids are wired, and we are all rather grumpy. So, in order to get my act in gear, I am writing this blog. Please join me on my self-induced guilt-trip.
Today, I will talk about: Walking to school.
Walking to school used to be the cultural norm. I just read a recent statistic that said that only somewhere between 25-35% of Canadian children walk, bike or wheel to school. A number of factors are contributing to a loss of this important activity. Here are some examples:
- Our car-centric culture means that driving is typically faster, more convenient, drier and warmer
- Overscheduled families shuttle children hurriedly from school to a plethora of lessons, sports and other activities
- Large schools are taking the place of smaller, more accessible neighbourhood schools
- Media that sensationalizes rare events skews public perceptions of safety and exaggerates the risk of things like abduction
- High levels of traffic, and poor neighbourhood planning can increase potential dangers to children and reduce walkability
I get this. I live this. We are at least a 20 minute walk away from the school, 25 with a dawdling 5 year old and 30 if he’s had a rough day. I drive more than I should, but usually only if the weather is bad. Pushing a stroller and holding an umbrella are, I have discovered, incompatible tasks. Unplowed or icy sidewalks can make conditions unfavourable (or sometimes entirely impossible, as was the case last winter) for pushing strollers or walking.
However, when we insist that children use active transportation to and from school, we are:
- Fighting obesity and inactivity trends (we’ve all heard the terrifying statistics about this one)
- Reducing gas use and air pollution
- Reducing traffic around schools
- Providing a good example about lifestyle choices for children
- Exposing children to urban nature (time to look at trees, gardens and even dead birds)
- Increasing quality time spent with the kids (time to slow down, and talk about the day)
Whole campaigns now focus on getting children to walk, bike or scooter to school by helping to create conditions that make active transportation safe and desirable. Here’s a good example:
Active and Safe Routes to School http://www.saferoutestoschool.ca
There are things that schools, planners and policy makers can (and should) do to help change these habits, but I’m going to go ahead and argue that parents have the biggest responsibility here. We are the ones that can have an immediate and lasting impact on our children’s long term well-being.
So, self, pull on your waterproof boots, don your gore-tex jacket, bundle up the baby, and get walking!
Do you walk your kids to school (or if they’re older, insist they walk themselves)? What gets in the way?