Walking to School: Not Just an Ancient Tradition

by Tracy Zaslow on 08/27/2012

Did you walk or bike to school when you were a kid? If you did, I bet those are some of your most cherished memories. Sure, we live in a very different world today, but you can still help your kids have that same memorable experience…and boost their health and fitness along the way!

With the new school year starting, it’s a great time to turnover a new leaf and the trip to school is the perfect way for kids (and adults!) to get the physical activity they need. Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled. Communities all around the country are combating this growing problem through a simple but effective change by encouraging kid to walk to school.

Why Walk?

1)  It’s healthy! Walking (or biking) to school is an easy way to help kids work towards the recommended goal of one hour of physical activity per day. It also engrains healthy habits in children that they can carry with them throughout life. Daily exercise helps kids build strong bones while decreasing the risk of obesity and obesity-related problems including stroke, diabetes, and heart disease. Exercise can even decrease the occurrence of depression.

2)  It’s fun! When you exchange the stress of the daily drive to school with the fresh air of a walk, you’re trading the assault on your senses that comes with morning traffic for an array of soothing and stimulating sensations. It’s a chance to admire the trees and the birds and the crunching of leaves beneath your feet. Plus, it’s a great way to spend time together!

3)  It’s eco-friendly! Increase your count of daily footsteps and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time. Leaving your car at home means fewer pollutants and less traffic in your community.

4)  It’s economical! Walking to school means you and your kids burn calories instead of gasoline and that can add up to big savings at the pump.

5)  It’s educational! While walking (or biking) to school you’ll have an opportunity to reinforce pedestrian safety rules. Teach your kids to cross at marked crossings, to look both ways and, if using wheels (bike, roller-blades, skateboard, etc.) to get to school, to always wear their helmet. You can also dedicate the time to discuss their latest school projects!

We’ve all heard it said that “it takes a village” to raise a child. Well, if you’re having trouble motivating your kids, don’t give up…get help! Parents, teachers, and students can work together to develop sustainable “walk to school” programs to help all the kids in the community get active and walk to school safely. One terrific program to follow is the “Walking School Bus.”

What is a Walking School Bus?

It’s like a carpool without the car — plus the added benefits of exercise! A walking school bus is an organized group of children who walk to school together, accompanied by one or more adults. It can be as informal as two families taking turns walking each other’s children to school, or as structured as a mapped out route with designated meeting points, a timetable, and a regularly rotated schedule of trained volunteers. For guidelines to a more organized approach, visit www.walkingschoolbus.org.

Ideas to Get the Wheels FEET in Motion

1) Pick one day a week to start, and get the whole family on board for a morning walk to school.

2) Invite your neighbor to join. Do you have a neighbor you see every morning going on the same route to school? Ask them to walk along with you…remember, there’s power in numbers!

3) Approach your school’s principal about supporting an ongoing effort to encourage more students and their families to get out and get walking.

4) Scout out a safe walking route. You can even print out a map and hang it where the kids will be reminded to get with the program!

5) Make a list of how much activity your kids get each day. Is it at least one hour? If not, walking to school is even more important for their health and fitness.

Your stories are inspiring for us and our readers! We’d love to hear about your own memorable childhood walks to school or how you have incorporated walking into your family’s life! Please post your comments here or email us.

Great Resources:

The Walking School Bus www.walkingschoolbus.org

International Walk to School www.walkbiketoschool.org

Safe Routes to School www.saferoutesinfo.org

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

edith buie August 28, 2012 at 1:52 AM

These ideas are simple and all that is needed is a little enthusiasm to get with the program! Maybe Walking School Buses can log mileage and work towards a preset goal, celebrating once they achieve it! Thanks, Dr. Zaslow, for getting this started!

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Tracy Zaslow August 29, 2012 at 10:55 AM

Love the idea of working towards a goal–That can always help motivation!

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Laurie Chazen August 28, 2012 at 6:30 PM

Great ideas

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Tracy Zaslow August 29, 2012 at 10:52 AM

Thanks! Think the Chazen grandkids in Philly may get to enjoy the walk to school? :)

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Jennifer September 10, 2012 at 12:48 PM

I miss the days when things were so simple! I now get nervous about having my nieces and nephews walk to school, so these sites are enormously helpful. Thank you!

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