A walking school bus on the way to West Boulevard Elementary School in Columbia, Missouri. Photo by MoBikeFed via Flickr.com.
Guest bloggers Andrea Donsky and Rady Boyer are co-founders of NaturallySavvy.com.
Do your kids walk to school? If they do, they're among just a fraction of children who hit the pavement each morning, Monday through Friday.
We're well into the new school year and I have to admit, I'm feeling a little frustrated. I often wonder what percentage of parents drive their children to or from school when walking is so much simpler and greener. I understand it isn't always possible to walk both ways, especially if dropping kids off at school is a pit stop for those parents who are on their way to work in the morning. However, I do believe kids should be walking at least one direction whenever possible.
The good news: October is International Walk to School Month, and I'm hoping parents get on board and realize how beneficial walking to school is.Only 13 percent of kids walk to school, according to the 2001 National Household Travel Survey (that's down from 41 percent in 1969). This frustrates me for a number of reasons:
- Children can always use exercise. Obesity rates continue to rise, and we must take advantage of this easy and convenient time to get their legs working.
- Driving a short distance and idling burn a lot of fuel per mile.
- There is a cloud of exhaust that surrounds a school's drop-off points. This is not good for the health of our children, and certainly not good for the planet.
I can't pretend to be innocent here. The horrible cloud of exhaust around my kids' school has made me want to drive them to school too, just so we can avoid walking through the pollution. It's a vicious cycle, and parents need to join together and start making better choices for our children and the environment.
Safe, Walk-To-School Programs are Launching Around the World
I take comfort in the fact that, slowly but surely, safe walk-to-school programs in North America are beginning to gather steam. The United Kingdom has been a pioneer when it comes to starting safe walk to school programs. The country has a massive walk to school program, which was created in 1995, with just five primary schools in Hertfordshire taking part. Today, the organization's national Walk to School Campaign sees over 2 million children taking part each year.
In Canada and the U.S., we are not quite where the U.K. is, but we've definitely coming a long way.
Canada Walks, which is a division of Green Communities Canada, helps bring together various programs that promote walking. In 1996, Green Communities Active & Safe Routes to School program came together to ensure children across the country have a safe route to school.
In the U.S., the Safe Routes to School program, founded in 2006, gets support by the federal government to "Improve the health and well-being of children by enabling and encouraging them to walk and bicycle to school." These programs were specifically created with the environment in mind. They reduce traffic and air pollution in school vicinities and help to improve safety and accessibility. The program also encourages our children to be active and healthy from a young age, fostering a desire to walk that will (hopefully) stay with them through adulthood.
Make the Walk to School Safe
Of course, some parents drive their children to school because they are worried about safety. But that's why these programs are so great. They not only encourage our children be active and healthy, but also create safe walking routes.
One great way to ensure your children are safe is the "walking school bus" -- a bit like carpooling on foot. Parents who walk a route to school that passes by other students' houses can pick up those kids too. Everyone feels a little safer with an adult chaperone, and parents can even chaperone on a rotating schedule.
If walking to school every day isn't an option, I hope parents can do their part by at least trying to implement it once a week. Every effort can cut down on pollution and help our children stay a little more fit and healthy.