October is International Walk to School Month with families across the globe celebrating the joys of walking to school. We talked to Living Streets, the UK charity for everyday walking, about the benefits of getting out on foot with your kids…
Why walk to school?
Walking to school has the potential to improve air quality and reduce congestion by taking cars off the road; it helps children develop road safety skills, independence and opportunities to socialise; and it helps children fit more active minutes into their day so they can stay healthy and happy. And just as importantly, it’s a great chance to spend time with loved ones, as this dad, Chris Callaghan, told us.
“I expected the walk to offer the usual benefits: a chance to blow away the cobwebs, financial savings of leaving the car at home, that sort of thing. The time we’ve got to spend together has been the biggest bonus though. I like the aimlessness of it all. Free from any other distractions we really get to speak with each other. I find out what’s happening at school, she gets the chance to ask me (sometimes challenging) questions about the world and we chat about stories and crazy characters.”
The walk to school brought more unexpected benefits to Chris as those ‘crazy characters’ turned into ideas for a book, which turned into The Great Chocoplot, his first children’s book, published last year.
“Walking has been a great way to get those creative juices flowing and it’s the same for my daughter, too. She’s told me that walking wakes her up and gives her more energy for the school day.”
So with all these benefits on offer, why aren’t more of us walking to school? A generation ago, over 70 per cent of primary school aged children walked to school. Now it’s dropped to around half, with nearly a quarter of morning peak traffic being families on the school run – the side effects being congested roads and poor air quality.
Air pollution is harmful to everyone but for children the risk to their health is even higher as they absorb pollutants and retain them in the body for longer. The myth that children are more protected from air pollution inside the car is simply not true. A range of research shows children sitting in the backseat of vehicles are likely to be exposed to higher levels of air pollution than those on foot.
There is also a worrying trend towards obesity, with a third of 2-15 year olds being obese or overweight. Medical experts advise that children are active for at least 60 minutes a day to stay fit and maintain a healthy weight – sadly just a fifth achieves this. The walk to school is an easy way for children to add more active minutes into their day.
Encouraging children to move more
The good news is that there are many successful ways to encourage more children to walk to school. WOW – our year-round walk to school challenge rewards children who walk to school at least once a week with collectable badges. WOW runs in schools across the UK and typically we see walking rates increase by 23 per cent with a corresponding drop in cars around the school gates.
For parents who can’t walk the whole way to school because of time commitments, park and stride schemes are a great solution. By parking away from the school and spending the last ten minutes or so walking rather than stuck in traffic, children still get active and school gates become safer and cleaner places.
We know from the parents we work with that a lot of them feel unsafe around the school gates and that’s why we’re campaigning for safer school routes. During International Walk to School Month, we’re asking families to rate their walk to school on our online tool to help us build up a picture of UK streets.
Are cars parked on the pavement? Are there not enough well-placed crossings? Cracked pavements? We want to hear the good, the bad and the ugly so we can see what’s preventing families from walking more and try and find solutions. That way, we can encourage more families to walk to school so children can stay healthy, take steps in the fight against dirty air and enjoy the same quality time that Chris’s daughter did:
“I like getting up for school on a morning because I know that I’m going to spend time with my dad on the way. During the day I am looking forward to the end of school because I know I am going to get to talk to him on our way home. It has always been my favourite part of the day.”
You can rate your walk to school and see our ideas on how to make the walk to school easier and safer by visiting livingstreets.org.uk/iwtsm
Keep an eye on Living Streets’ International Walk to School Month celebrations and share pictures of your walk to school with @livingstreets on Twitter and Instagram, using the hashtag #iwalktoschool