October can be a busy month with half term coming around and the fun of Halloween while Bonfire Night follows closely and the shops begin to fill with Christmas stuff. But another event that takes place in October and is well worth getting involved with where possible is International Walk to School Month.
About the campaign
In the previous generation, walking to school was a common activity and some 70% of kids in primary school walked to class each day. But today this figure has dropped dramatically with some 46% of kids walking to their school each day.
A group called Living Streets is behind a campaign to encourage more kids to walk to school or even to walk part of the way. They are also encouraging people to take to social media to share what they love about walking to help inspire others to get involved. The Twitter campaign can be found under the hashtag #WalkBecause while their Facebook page can also have pictures added.
Why walking is important for kids
While walking to school might sound like a good idea, there are real benefits to activity for kids of all ages. Encouraging kids to walk places from a young age has proven health benefits that will last them throughout their lives. So walking to school can be the start of something.
Walking to school and walking in general has been shown to have a positive effect on children’s academic performance. They arrive in school brighter and more alter than those who are bundled into the car, half asleep and remain so until they are deposited into the school yard. In a survey by the Department of Transport, nine out of ten teachers said that their students were more willing to learn when they have walked to school than had a ride in the car. It also reduces the stress in children, particularly around test and examination times and increases creativity. Both of these have a major impact in a child’s performance in class.
Walking places encourages children to think more about their surroundings and to act responsibly than when they merely sit as passengers in a car. They also have time to think and to analyse what is bothering them and either work out solutions to the problems or realise that they need to talk to someone about their issues. Walking to school with a group of friends is also a great social activity that allows them to discuss issues away from adult supervision while walking in a ‘walking school bus’ with other parents allows kids to make new friends.
These activities also helps them to be a little more independent, without relying totally on their parents to get them to school. They need to think about matters such as leaving time to get to school promptly so getting out of bed in plenty of time is important. It can boost kids self-confidence as they learn to rely on themselves and do things without a parent prompting them.
Getting outside is something that most parents would love to encourage their kids to do more of in order to pull them away from the TV screen or their games consoles. By starting them walking to school then this leads on to spending more time outside. When they find they enjoy walking to school it will be easier to persuade them to go out walking in other circumstances.
Kids who regularly walk to school have a better road sense than those that don’t even when they use crossings and have crossing guards on their route. They are naturally exposed more to being on the street and how you need to watch the traffic to avoid accidents. This stands them in good stead if they then want to start biking to school on their own when they are older as parents will feel more confident in their road safety skills.
As well as doing better at school and learning to enjoy being outside, there are direct physical benefits for children. Two recent studies in the US have found that walking to school and other physical activity have direct benefits on their bodies as well as their minds.
For starters, children will lose weight or avoid gaining it when they take part in regular exercise and by walking to school they can use this is as a foundation. When they realise that walking to school is fun, they will be more inclined to do other activities and therefore reap these benefits. It can even stave off blood pressure problems as they get older as well as reduce their risk of developing type 1 or 2 diabetes in later life.
Walking exercises a lot of muscles and joints as well as helping to strength bones and these areas are all crucial in kids. While most joint and bone problems don’t affect us until we are in our middle ages and onwards, their root cause can something be found in childhood. By building strong bones, joints and muscles from a young age, there is a better chance of avoiding some of these issues.
While it isn’t always possible for kids to walk to school depending on where they live in relation to the school, if they can walk then there are even benefits for parents. For starters, there is the saving in fuel costs in the car. After all, short journeys are the worst for fuel economy and running the kids two minutes to school probably costs more than travelling to the supermarket. You can also do a little bit for the environment by reducing your carbon footprint in this way.
Then there is the gain in time once they are old enough to walk themselves. You have more time to do other jobs once you have sent them on their way and find yourself calmer and more relaxed on a morning with less rushing around involved. Even when you need to walk them to school, you will often feel more relaxed after a small dose of exercise yourself, ready for the day and energised.