October 6 (Update: October 3 in 2012) is International Walk to School Day, and the whole month of October has been designated Walk to School Month. Schoolchildren are encouraged to walk, bike, skateboard, scooter, bus, or carpool to school — anything that is different from the one child-one car system. And they’re encouraged to keep doing so, when and if they can. The beauty of the program, which was started in 1997 and expanded from a day to a month in 2006, is that a month is long enough for something like walking to become a routine and a habit, and a special day can energize people who might not have considered walking or biking before.
As of yesterday, more than 3,200 schools had registered for Walk to School Day on the U.S. Walk to Schools web site, a figure that’s expected to both increase throughout the month and be bigger in actuality (as not every school registers its efforts.)
First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign is also involved in the effort.
Of course, many of us remember when walking and biking to school was the norm and didn’t require any special days or rewards. The Safe Routes to Schools website notes that 42% of all students (and 87% of students within a mile) walked or biked to school in 1969, compared with 16% (and 63% within a mile – frankly, I would have thought that number was lower) in 2001. Busy schedules, parental fears, suburban sprawl, lack of school-bus funding, and other lifestyle shifts have all contributed to a culture of driving to school drop-off zones, even in towns where walking and biking is pretty do-able. I’d love to see figures for today, because I think the norm has shifted once again.
The U.S. Walk to Schools site has a lot of wonderful information about the benefits of walking. The site’s Frequently Asked Questions page has a great checklist to help parents determine the walking and biking safety of their own neighborhoods, as well as suggestions for customizing a walk if the school is too far away for walking or biking. There are also lists of U.S. and international cities and countries that are participating in International Walk to School Day.
My community has been participating in International Walk to School Day, through our local Safe Routes to Schools program, for years. I have witnessed first-hand the increase in regular walkers and bikers to school since the program started. More people, of all ages, out on the streets make them safer for the next group of schoolchildren who comes along. Communities also benefit from getting to know one another better, as they get into the healthy walking habit together. And families, if mine is any indication, experience less stress (the school drop-off zone always seems unnatural and harried. Is it me?) — and more joyful time together when parents can walk with younger children.
The number of participating schools goes up each year — perhaps yours has already planned some events, assemblies or rewards. Let us know!
Enjoy International Walk to School Month!
Here are more great resources:
Marin Safe Routes to Schools
U.S. Safe Routes to Schools
U.S. Walk to Schools
International Walk to Schools
Why Walk and Bike?
Safe Routes Guide for Parents and Teachers (very comprehensive)
Field Notes From the Future: Safe Routes to Schools Publishes New Resource Guides
Car Free Days: Wednesday is Intl Walk to School Day (but you can walk/ride all month)
Car Free Days: Biking to School … Without Parents
Free Range Kids: Non-Sanctimonious Blog About Today: WALK TO SCHOOL DAY!
Slow Family Online: Why Can’t She Walk to School in Today’s New York Times?
Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman