Should Your Kids Walk to School This Year?

6 years ago

West Boulevard Elementary Walking School BusGrowing up, I lived in the middle of nowhere and walking to school wasn’t an option. We now live less than a mile from my son’s elementary school. I’ve been toying with walking on these still warm summer days, but I’m dealing with a back injury that has been slow to heal. And, you know, walking involves leaving earlier which means being more organized in the morning. I’m new to this as my son is in Kindergarten, so we’re still finding our groove. But having read that walking to school ups activity levels in children -- whereas riding to school drops activity levels -- I’m almost convinced to leave the house earlier.

Texas researchers split a group of 149 fourth-graders from eight schools in Houston into active commuters -- those who walked to and from school up to five days a week -- and a control group who were driven by bus or car. At the beginning of the study, both groups had logged similar amounts of moderate to vigorous activity, about 46 to 49 minutes per day.

But over the next five weeks, the kids who walked to school upped their activity slightly -- an average of 7 extra minutes per day of moderate to vigorous exercise. In contrast, those who got driven to school actually lowered their daily activity over the study period, to an average of 41 minutes daily.

I’m not concerned about my son’s BMI number. I’m not concerned about his weight. But I am interested in making sure both he and his brother are getting enough activity outside -- while we can. Last winter was hard for us as we were basically stuck inside for weeks on end due to the crazy weather. I think activity is important, but not really for the same reasons as those concerned with the obesity epidemic. When my boys are active, they argue less, they play better together, they eat their meals with less of an issue and they sleep so well. They are simply happier children when they’re getting in enough physical play and movement everyday.

What I’ve noticed since school started for us is this: I have less time with my older son. Obviously. Walking in the morning and the afternoon might give us a little more time to ourselves while also making sure he’s keeping active. Of course, there are also things like reducing exhaust and, let’s be honest, avoiding the car pool lane completely, that make walking to school seem like a great idea.

In fact, I was most compelled to walk the kids to school by a post written by It’s the Elliot Way here on BlogHer. She said walking to school stopped the morning arguments between her kids that were happening as soon as they got in the car to go to school.

So what's the solution? Remove the car from the equation. Get them into the fresh air and wide open spaces. You can't breathe on your sister if you are walking two feet away from her. First we had to move. We moved to a house so close to school that I would be embarrassed to drive. Or at least that's what I told the children. Look how close we are to school, I said with a sing-songy voice! We can walk! Everyday! We are sooooo lucky! And they bought it, hook, line and sinker. "We get to walk to school," I heard them repeat with pride to friends over the summer. Of course, this wasn't the only reason we moved, but it was a great perk.

But let’s be honest: Not everyone thinks that walking to-and-from school is a great idea. Take, for example, the 12-year-old that was brought home by the Police for walking home by himself. She pointed out that 12 is old enough to babysit, but the officers didn’t seem to care. After listening to the officers basically call her a bad mom, they had to agree to disagree.

I looked up at the Police Officer standing in my living room. He looked down at me. Our eyes met and he stated bluntly. “I guess we have a different opinion of what is safe eh?” “Ya” I replied. “I guess we do”.

Of course, you can’t win for losing. Just as this mom faced judgment for letting her son walk alone, I’m judged as being over-protective because I won’t let my sons walk alone (even as they age). It’s just another one of those parenting arguments that you simply cannot win -- mostly because there is no right or wrong. What’s right for one family isn’t right for another.

Except for the fact that activity is good for kids. And their parents.

If you’re considering walking to school, here are some great resources, including info about starting a “walking bus to school.”

Do your kids walk to school -- with or without you? In rain or shine? Tell us your stories and the hows and whys of coming to your walking decision. I think other parents’ perspectives and experiences might help people who are on the fence decide to lace up their shoes and walk out the door in the morning -- with some coffee.

Family Section Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is a freelance writer and photographer.

Photo Credit: MoBikeFed of the local walking school bus.

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