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Did Your Child Walk To School Today?

Did Your Child Walk To School Today?

 

Did your child walk to school today?

If she or he did, she or he has taken part in International Walk to School Day which supports safe walking and biking to school. Only about 10 percent of children in the US walk to school regularly, no matter what the distance. Of children who live within a mile of their school, only 25 percent are regular walkers. In contrast, in 1969, about 48 percent of children walked to school.

With childhood obesity rates soaring — about 17 percent (2.5 million) children aged 2 – 19 are obese — walking is a simple, cost-effective way to get kids to incorporate some of their recommend 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity into their day.

Some may object that it simply is not safe for children to walk the streets to school. A recent study in Pediatrics offers a solution called the “walking bus,” in which parents or other trusted adults lead a group of children from their homes or some designated “bus stop” to school. Dr. Jason Mendoza of the Children’s Nutrition Research Center found a 36 percent decrease in kids driven to school after they’d participated in the Walking School Bus group. Not only did this mean more exercise for the students; it also meant less pollution and therefore less traffic. Dangers to the children walking were kept in check as they were walking in an adult-supervised group. Dr. Mendoza says that he and others are next planning to study bicycle trains, similar “caravans” of kids riding bicycles to school.

Significantly, most of the children in the research were from predominantly low-income and ethnic minority families: It’s not only children in suburban towns who can and should walk to school. When I walk to work down busy John F. Kennedy Boulevard in Jersey City, I often see small groups of children, with an adult, walking. Due to all the car, bus and other traffic, walking simply makes sense (and is very likely the only option for families who cannot afford a car).

In these days of fears of “stranger-danger” and even — a parent always worries — awareness of the story of Jaycee Dugard,  it’s understandable that many parents, even in suburban towns, prefer to usher their child from door to door in the safety of the car. Parents who work may be pressed for time and driving is, theoretically, faster ( but driving can also mean having to wait in the “drop-off” line, among other delays). Quite a few children in my New Jersey town do walk to school. There are sidewalks (which some towns have in short supply) and crossing guards at regular intervals, so there are plenty of people looking out for children on their own. Just this morning, too, I saw a couple of children biking to the elementary school near my house.

My 14-year-old son and I made those daily walks (just about ten minutes) when he attended nearby schools. Sometimes it was a little hard to get going in the morning especially when the cold and rain set in. But the walk home after school was always a good way to unwind and let whatever challenges the schooldays had posed “air out.” My husband and I both walked to school and back home for a good part as children. He has strong memories of encountering numerous loose dogs in 1960s Cheshire, Connecticut. I recall how my mile or so walk, Snoopy lunch box and Hello Kitty book bag in tow, was a first whiff of independence.

If you’ve been sighing over the all-too-common phenomenon of parents driving their kids all of 5 minutes to school, here are some suggestions for getting kids to start walking, with an eye to safety and partnering with schools and law enforcement. Why not get kids started walking today?

 

Related Care2 Coverage

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20 comments

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7:11AM PDT on Oct 18, 2011

Let them walk safely.

1:46PM PDT on Oct 7, 2011

Walking would be good exercise, but safety is of more importance. Many neighborhoods in my community are built with no sidewalks making it unsafe for children to walk to school.

8:08PM PDT on Oct 6, 2011

I usually walk my 3-year-old there, though use the car if it is raining or we are running late. I pick her up and we walk back together. I appreciate the double walk I get when we walk both times!

12:47PM PDT on Oct 6, 2011

I guess a lot of it depends on the neighbourhood you live in, and a lot of parents have things scheduled for the kids after school so it is quicker to pick them up. I always lived in small towns growing up, and walked long distances to school, and we didn't have every minute scheduled like a lot of people do today.

12:09PM PDT on Oct 6, 2011

thanks

11:48AM PDT on Oct 6, 2011

Like Laurie G., we walked to and from school AND home for lunch until the 8th grade. We played outside all the time, were not allowed to watch TV unless it was an approved show, played team sports and walked to everything possible for extra-curricular activities. Maybe they can no longer go alone as we did but they can certainly go with an older sibling, parent or sitter. Just do it - I've seen children who cannot walk from their home to the end of the driveway for the bus. Insane.....

8:45AM PDT on Oct 6, 2011

Exercise and healthy living should be encouraged, and walking to school is a start.

7:38AM PDT on Oct 6, 2011

Most people nowadays feel that it is not safe to allow a child to walk to school.
People say things like - it's not like it was when we were young.

7:30AM PDT on Oct 6, 2011

I walked to school as well AND home for lunch AND back again and it was great.

7:29AM PDT on Oct 6, 2011

I'm glad to see this is an issue. Every time I follow a school bus home and watch as it stops every few yards to drop off a few kids, I think to myself "no wonder our children are so fat today." When I was in school, we weren't even eligible to take a bus if we lived closer than a mile -- and in the few years when I was eligible, I usually walked anyway.

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