By Kerry Crisley, The Nature Conservancy
So shouts my seven-year old, Erin, as she skips down our street, stopping to collect a leaf that’s the perfect shade of orange. My nine-year old son Ben is behind me, hunched over and walking on his toes. He’s making his own dinosaur costume out of cardboard for Halloween this year and he’s practicing his “spinosaurus walk.”
We’re walking to school on a gorgeous fall morning, an activity we’ve made a fixture in our daily routine. It just so happens that Wednesday, October 9th is National Walk to School Day, but I’m not waiting until then to start.
What finally got me committed to walking? The Danish.
Not the pastry, but a Danish study released last year showing that how a student travels to school has more impact on concentration and focus than whether they had breakfast. According to the results, “the most important meal of the day” pales in comparison to fresh air and exercise.
The study, called Mass Experiment 2012, surveyed nearly 20,000 Danish students ages five to 19. The kids who walked (or biked) to school, rather than being driven or taking public transportation, performed noticeably better on tasks requiring concentration, such as solving puzzles. And this effect stayed with them for the rest of the morning.
The author of the study, Professor Niels Egelund, noted that “as a third-grade pupil, if you exercise and bike to school, your ability to concentrate increases to the equivalent of someone half a year further in their studies.”
That was enough to convince me that walking was better, but let’s be honest: this isn’t The Brady Bunch. There’s no Alice helping me fix breakfast and pack lunches, and unlike Carol I still spend far too much time repeatedly asking my kids to get dressed, put on shoes and find their backpacks. Meanwhile, I have my own workday to prepare for. Where was I going to find 15 more minutes to walk?
Photo courtesy of Kerry Crisley (Erin and Ben on the first day of school – ready to walk.)
- Frozen as a fallback: I stock up on frozen meals, like Amy’s Kitchen or Kashi. So if it’s time to walk to school and I haven’t packed my lunch, I can always grab something from the freezer. I won’t be tempted to skip the walk in order to make a sandwich.
- Run an errand on the way: Every morning we pass a convenience store en route to school. On the way home, I’ll sometimes stop in to replenish our supply of milk or eggs. It only adds 60 seconds to my trip home, and then I don’t have to do it later.
- Put a value on the experience: Look at it another way. Is this really time “lost”? If time spent in nature is good for kids, it’s good for parents, too. My walk home gives me ten minutes of solitude and fresh air – not to mention the quality time with my kids – and it’s something I’ve come to value a lot.
These are small changes, but they’re worth it. As walking to school has become our rule rather than our exception, I’ve noticed a change in my kids’ morning demeanor. If they’re cranky as we head out the door, they’re considerably mellower when we arrive.
Want to try it out? Start this Wednesday and visit Walk to School Day online for ways to make a school-wide event.
Kerry Crisley is Associate Director of Strategic Communications for The Nature Conservancy. Opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.