International Walk to School Day is meant to increase awareness about the many benefits of walking to school. This event has grown since it was originally devised in 1997 by the Partnership for a Walkable America, and now thousands of schools in the US and in forty countries participate annually. Since becoming so popular, the entire month of October has been designated “Walk to School Month,” so the pedestrian fun doesn’t have to stop anytime soon.
An increased number of parents are choosing to drive their kids to school, even when it’s easily within walkable distance. One UK source reports, “Over the past 20 years, the percentage of children travelling to school by car has doubled, almost 40% of primary and 20% of secondary age children are now driven to school each day. Most of these journeys are less than two miles.” According to a report from Toronto, children who live within 1-2 kilometres of school are likely to walk, but even that number is decreasing. Parents are really nervous about letting their kids walk. While their concerns are understandable, it’s also sad because many kids are missing out on the benefits of walking to school.
Walking is known to improve academic performance. Children arrive brighter and more alert for their first morning class. In a UK Department for Transport survey, nine out of ten teachers said their students are much more ready to learn if they’ve walked to school. Walking reduces stress and increases creativity, both of which will help a child’s performance at school.
Walking gives children good life experience. It’s an opportunity for them to be independent, think responsibly, and make decisions for themselves. Some children feel less anxiety about being at school when they know how to get home; it’s much harder to learn that route from the perspective of a car. If a child is still young or immature, then walking in groups with friends or siblings is a good option, as is the “walking school bus.” Parents take turns collecting children from houses in the neighbourhood and accompany them to school.
Walking gets children outdoors – and, according to Richard Louv, who wrote Last Child in the Woods, kids certainly aren’t spending enough time outside these days. Those few minutes of walking can provide inspiration. One child, interviewed for a study by the University of Toronto, described his daily commute: “There’s this pathway I go by, and it’s actually in this puny, puny forest. So it has big tall trees around it. Yeah, it’s just spectacular.” Children pay attention to and revel in their surroundings in a way that adults don’t.
Walking provides daily exercise for children. Obesity rates have skyrocketed in North America, so incorporating physical activity into a child’s daily routine is a good place to start fighting it. As physical fitness improves, so does academic performance, according to the California Department of Education.
Urban affairs journalist Christopher Hume says, “Walking is a reflection of how we feel about the environment in which we live.” Children will learn to love their town even more if they get to know it on foot. Why not gather a group of friends and register for Walk to School Day on October 9? You can sign up here.