by Darcie Taing R.N, M.N CCHN(C),
Public Health Nurse at Ottawa Public Health
When we were kids, a lot more of us walked to school. So what has changed? Local parents have listed a number reasons they do not want their kids to use active ways to get to and from school. Mom and dad are concerned about safety; they say the walk is too far; they’re not comfortable without an adult accompanying their kids en route but they don’t have the time to take that walk themselves.
What we do know is that children need at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity. And while exercise is important, finding ways to be active every day can be hard for busy families. Involvement in organized sports once or twice a week is not enough. However, the familiar, five-days-a-week route to school offers an excellent opportunity for kids to be active.
A Walking School Bus may be the key to getting your children moving vigorously more often. When several children walk to school under the watchful eye of an adult, usually the parent or caregiver of one of the two-footed travellers, you can call it a Walking School Bus. It’s a healthy option that not only allows your kids to enjoy seeing friends—and connecting with new ones— on the way to school, it’s also good for the environment and the kids’ well-being.
For parents who work, a Walking School Bus can be a great option since your children benefit from regular activity but the amount of time you need to donate is apt to be small. You may only need to lead the Walking School Bus once a week if many families join. Speak with your employer about changing your work schedule for the day(s) you walk.
Here are some tips for setting up a Walking School Bus:
- Invite families who live nearby to take part.
- Pick a route and take a test walk. Check out maps at http://www.ottawaschoolbus.ca/
- Take side streets and paths that are less busy with traffic.
- Decide how often the group will walk together.
- Have fun!
Kids who get regular physical activity are ready to learn when they get to school. Research also shows that being active can improve health, self-esteem, focus and sleep. Being physically active is a lifelong health habit that is useful for coping with stress as well. The benefits are far-reaching.
Parents do not need to be athletes to have active kids. When parents are active they are great role models and can have a big impact on their children’s choices to be active too. Kids also watch parents for safety habits, so before setting out review some safety tips:
- Encourage kids to wear bright colors and use reflective materials. Walk leaders and children can wear fluorescent vests. In bad weather, visibility is even more important.
- Cross the street at crosswalks, stops signs or stop lights.
- Walk on sidewalks or make eye contact with on-coming traffic if no sidewalks exist.
- Stop and check for cars before crossing at roads, mall entrances and driveways.
For details, see http://saferoutestoschool.ca/walking-school-bus, www.ottawa.ca/health or call Ottawa Public Health at 613 580-6744.