Walk, walk, walk to school.
Happily down the street.
Walk with neighbours, walk with friends.
Walking to school is sweet.
Sung to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” that song was heard this week over the morning announcements at Riverside Public School, promoting International Walk to School Day Oct. 7. The day kicked off a month that focuses on increasing everyday walking, both to school and at school.
Students at schools across Waterloo Region joined more than three million children from some 40 countries – India to Italy to South Africa – who participated in Walk to School Day.
The Active and Safe Routes to School Committee has organized many of the events happening in schools around the region. Committee member Marion Kelterborn said that walking at this time of year is especially important as it establishes a routine for children to follow throughout the year. There’s no reason for kids not to walk to school if they are able, she added.
“There is a lot of positive benefit to walking, not only from the safety aspect but also from the health aspect. It’s good for our bodies, it’s good for our lungs, and it’s good for our heart.”
Since the event began at a school in Great Britain in 1994, its popularity has grown and it is now recognized as a month-long initiative around the world. Its goals include encouraging physical activity by teaching kids how to identify safe routes to school, promoting the benefits of walking and raising awareness about the need for walkable communities. It also touts other benefits, including a reduction in crime by taking back neighborhoods for people on foot, reducing traffic congestion, pollution, and speeding near schools.
“We talk a lot about our environment these days and by being green and reducing the amount of pollution we put in the air, walking can keep our environment a little bit healthier too,” explained Kelterborn.
Barb Finn, a teacher at Riverside Public School, has had her students create posters to hang around the school telling other kids the benefits of walking to school and being more active.
An idea presented by the Safe Routes Committee, and now being adopted by many schools in the Waterloo Region, is a program called the walking school bus, in which families in a neighbourhood agree to walk to school together, perhaps with parents taking turns, a similar arrangement to a carpool. Trained student volunteers or adults lead students on a planned route that has designated “bus stops.”
If just nine families participate regularly in a walking school bus over the course of a school year, they could collectively prevent almost 1,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere.
Finn said this program, and any which encourages kids to use active transportation – their own power –rather than fossil fuels is worth encouraging and promoting.
“One of the most important things we can do is to make a link from the school to the kids’ homes. The school can encourage walking, but it’s the families at home who make the decisions about how their kids are getting to school.”