Walking to school is simple, healthy and fun. And a large number of Canadian kids never do it.
“Unlike other countries, Canada hasn’t paid much attention to the issues that people have when they travel on foot,” says Jacky Kennedy, director of Canada Walks. “At some point in our day, everybody does it, but it’s the most under-represented, ignored mode of transportation.”
Canada Walks — part of the umbrella organization Green Communities Canada — is trying to raise awareness of the benefits of active
transportation — walking, cycling and rollerblading. They’re trying to reach the parents of the 41 per cent of children who are routinely driven to school.
“Pretty much what our society has done, over the last 30 years, is we’ve engineered physical activity out of our children’s lives,” Kennedy explains.
“Our program targets the 68 per cent of Canadian children who live within a reasonable walking distance of their schools — about one-and-a-half kilometres. Only about 30 per cent of those currently use active travel to get to and from school.”
There are a lot of reasons why this is. Parents worry about the safety of their kids, and there’s a compelling level of convenience to just dropping your children off at school, and driving on to the rest of your day.
Kennedy counters that this caution and ease has its consequences.
“Children need a minimum of 90 minutes of physical activity a day, and we know that many children aren’t getting that. If they walk to school, there isn’t a problem with burning off their excess energy.”
Canada Walks does detailed assessments of the community surrounding a school. Are the walking and biking routes safe? If so, they organize programs like the Walking School Bus, where groups of children walk home together, accompanied by adults.
Another program is Walk on Wednesday, where as many children as possible are asked to walk to school on the same day. With repetition, parents begin to see the health benefits — and it’s hard not to notice a substantial drop in car traffic around their school.
“Parents and kids who are using active transportation some of the time are happier, they’re less stressed, they feel healthier and the kids are doing better in school,” Kennedy notes.
For more info, visit saferoutestoschool.ca.