We've all heard the stories. When our parents were young they had to walk miles to school, uphill both ways, and usually through three feet of snow. So when did it all stop? Today's students walk less than ever before. Stop by any school before or just after school and you will see streets choked with cars waiting to deliver or pick up students. When parents are asked why they don't let their students walk or ride to school two answers prevail - convenience and safety.
Fearful that their children may get accosted by bullies, strangers criminals, animals, rain, cold, snow, allergies or a variety of other perils, many parents will simply not let their children go to school without adult supervision. Not willing, or unable, to take the time to walk with their children, many parents pop them into the car and drive them a few blocks before they head off to their daily routines. Ironically, the greatest danger for students who are allowed to walk to school is often the other parents driving their kids.
Also ironic is the fact that in trying to keep their children safe, parents who drive their kids to school are actually contributing to their overall unhealthiness. Active Health Kids Canada (AHKC) reported that less than 7% of school age children get the minimum amount of daily exercise recommended by the Canadian Physical Activity guidelines. Getting kids to walk to school would go a long way towards correcting this situation.
Civic authorities can help by providing schools and neighbourhoods with appropriate bike and pedestrian infrastructure but mostly the solutions here rest with parents. Educating children about pedestrian safety, working with other parents to provide safe supervision or just stopping a few blocks short of the school in order to encourage active walking, can all be solutions. Not driving students everywhere could also have an added benefit of developing students who lack the expectation that they should be driven everywhere. Parents would be saving themselves the headaches of being expected to serve as their child's on call chauffeur.
Keeping students safe is a worthy goal. Driving them everywhere is not the answer. Finding ways to get students to school under their own power is better for the students, the environment and the community. This October see if you can't help your students create some memories so that when they are older, they can tell their own students how they too had to brave those long walks to school.