Family vacations are wrapping up and the lazy days of summer are soon to be replaced with the craziness of heading back to class. For many, that means figuring out a new bus schedule or arranging car pools. But when I think back on my school days, I can remember walking down the road, a little less than a mile, with my backpack full, through the crosswalk past the friendly crossing guard, waiting at the playground in class lines for the school day to start. It was a big deal when I was big enough to ride my bike! Now, the only walking my kids do to get to school is the short distance to their bus stop. Biking is a cruise up and down our street, not much more. We don’t live too far from school, but not all the roads getting there have sidewalks or bike paths, and a walk to class would be incredibly dangerous. That doesn’t even take into account the fear we now have of child predators and such.
It makes me sad that my children don’t get to take the same journey I did. I can remember to this day how touched I was when my first little “boyfriend”, Mason, offered to walk me home and carry my books for me. We were just in 5th grade, but that’s how you knew a boy liked you in that day. Missing the walk to and from school may mean missing those experiences, too, and I hate that for my children. I also hate that they’re missing the great benefits of walking. And my children aren’t the only ones. Statistics show forty years ago, nearly half of all students walked or biked to school. Now, fewer than 15 percent do. About a fourth ride a school bus, while 60 percent are taken in cars.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could get more of those children taking the trip to school on their own two feet? We all know it’s healthier. And I understand safety is a huge concern. No parent wants their child to have to walk on the side of a busy road where their life is at risk. But we also know studies show there are risks for children who aren’t physically active. They are at higher risk of illnesses such as diabetes. And their ability to learn is also impacted. Studies indicate children with moderate or vigorous activity incorporated into their day are better able to concentrate, are more creative, better at problem solving and memory learning, and have improved mood for up to two hours after exercise.
This is enough evidence for me to start looking into new options for my children. We need to get back to where nearly half of the children can safely walk to school. Maybe more communities can build side walks and bike paths into their road plans. Steps can be taken by parents, too. We can all use a little more exercise in our lives, and walking with our children can have a number of benefits. Instead of organizing carpools, we can organize what’s known as the Walking School Bus. It’s something that’s been tried with success in Canada and England. Parents take turns getting children to and school on foot or bike, picking children up at their “stops” along the way. If it’s something you want to try, the CDC is offering a guidebook. Check the website, www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/kidswalk/. It seems to me as a new school year approaches, we all have something to learn from the students of yesteryear.