Back-to-school season is a great time to start new routines or tweak existing ones. Maybe you’ve always liked the idea of your kids walking to school, but haven’t been able to do it consistently. To help you hit your stride, here are some common issues and tips to overcome them.
“There isn’t enough time in the morning.”
In households across the land, the morning rush is a daily struggle. As the new school year begins, some honest reflection might reveal areas for improvement. Could you be more organized? Could you wake up earlier, or pack lunches the night before? Can you minimize or eliminate distractions? You’re likely to have better results (and lower blood pressure at breakfast) if you adopt a structured plan.
If your kids are old enough, make it into a mini science experiment. Use technology to record the actual time and distance, then calculate the necessary departure time. Next, deduct 5 minutes and set an alarm (on your phone or other device) as a friendly but firm signal that everyone needs to put on their shoes, zip up their backpack and head out the door.
“It doesn’t matter if the kids get to school by walking or driving.”
In fact, walking to school has a long list of important benefits, including:
- A healthy dose of physical activity. This is especially relevant since today’s kids have a more sedentary lifestyle than previous generations.
- Improved mental health. Walking can have a calming effect, especially if the route passes through a natural green space like a forest or park. The walk home can be a meaningful transition time where students de-stress after their school day.
- Academic readiness. Being outdoors and breathing fresh air helps kids arrive at school with a clear mind, ready to absorb new information. Discussing the day’s topics or lessons on the way home can help solidify their learning.
- School spirit. Be sure to participate in momentum-building initiatives such as International Walk to School Day, an annual global event on the first Wednesday of October.
- Environmental responsibility. Active transportation helps reduce the emissions and pollution related to vehicle use.
- Social connections. Along the way, you may meet newcomers to the neighbourhood and connect with like-minded people. Another bonus is sharing a daily hello with the crossing guard (ours is named Janice, and she’s the most perky, upbeat person I’ve ever met!).
“My kids think walking is boring.”
Some schools have painted colourful footprints, hopscotch grids, letters and numbers on the surrounding sidewalks to liven up the experience. If your child is proficient, maybe they would prefer “rolling” to school on a bike, scooter or skateboard. Try listening to music, bringing the dog, or playing a simple game.
Personally, I enjoy the one-on-one chats with my kids, as it’s a chance to focus on a topic they’re really excited about. Lately, every walk with my younger son is an informative lecture about Marvel superhero characters – I have learned a lot!
“It’s too dangerous with all the traffic.”
Every parent would say that student safety is the top priority, yet we still witness frazzled drivers pulling in to fire lanes, rolling through intersections, parking illegally, or speeding in a school zone – all in a last-ditch effort to get there before the bell rings. If we genuinely care about protecting our kids, we need to act more responsibly.
The good news: if more students choose to walk, there will naturally be less traffic and congestion in front of the school. If you are using a vehicle, consider parking on a quiet side street and walking with your child to the schoolyard.
“I don’t want my kids to walk alone.”
Most walk-to-school resource websites seem to agree that students in the primary grades (kindergarten to grade 3) should have adult supervision when walking. Ask around to determine if your community has a formal program (like a Walking School Bus) where children and parent volunteers walk as a group. Or, reach out to classmates and neighbours to make your own arrangements.
By the age of 9 or 10 (grade 4 and beyond), students are generally ready to walk with groups of peers or older siblings. In addition to the social enjoyment of being with friends, travelling in a group makes students more visible to motorists. If needed, access online resources to help prepare your kids for this new level of independence.
“It’s too far.”
If the distance is reasonable and the kids are complaining needlessly, consider showing them this short preview for a documentary entitled On the Way to School. The film follows groups of children in four different countries – Kenya, India, Morocco, and Argentina – and the harsh terrain they willingly cover to reach their schools. It makes our North American sidewalks look like red carpets.
If your location truly isn’t within walking distance of the school, consider choosing an appropriate drop-off spot (which could also be a meet-up point with a friend) so your child can still walk part of the way. Schools are starting to encourage this idea by posting signs that indicate the distance remaining to the school grounds.
This fall, it’s worth taking the extra steps to add active transportation to your back-to-school routine. Stay positive and enjoy the journey! If you’re looking for more ways to stay fit as a family, check out these tips!