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Put your best foot forward on the school run

Joanna Youngs Joanna Youngs | 18:37 UK time, Monday, 16 May 2011

Did you know that May is National Walking Month? Living Streets – the national charity which stands up for pedestrians - together with Walk England are urging people to walk more often, and to more places.

And one of those places is the school gate. Walk to School Week (16th-20th May) should see around a million children taking part this year. And if those kids aren’t making the whole journey on foot, then they’ll be walking at least some of the way.

mum taking children to school @ Prod. Numerik - fotolia.com

I’m lucky in that I live about half a mile from my daughter’s nursery school and have a selection of travel options open to me. I don’t drive, so using a car isn’t an option. The close proximity of the nursery doesn’t warrant a bus journey. I haven’t come round to the idea of cycling yet, so that leaves us with the option of getting there on foot. Well, I’m the one who does the walking - she glides along on her scooter – and it only takes 15 minutes.

By going there and back twice a day on foot, I clock up an hour of gentle exercise (this fact only dawned on me recently). When it’s warm and the sun’s shining, it feels like the best way to travel a short distance. It lifts the spirits, there’s no carbon footprint in our wake and I usually have a nice chat with my daughter along the way. I’m not in such a good mood when it’s raining or bitterly cold though...

But as an advocate for Walk to School Week – and walking to school in general - I can see how the practicalities make walking a less attractive option, or one that is just too difficult. I used to live in a busy urban sprawl, where getting from A to B involved pushing my daughter’s buggy along main roads, often feeling vulnerable as I waited on small traffic islands or overly cautious when I used pedestrian crossings.  And so I can understand parents’ fears about letting their kids walk to school unaccompanied when they are under the age of 10.

A recent survey of 2,000 British children aged 7 to 14, carried out by Living Streets, found that over a third of kids are scared of cars travelling too fast, with 20% concerned about a lack of safe crossing points. The survey also found that many parents and children are worried about ‘stranger danger’, while a fifth of secondary school children are afraid of being bullied on the way to school.

In light of these concerns, perhaps good compromise is to investigate alternatives to walking the whole route. A ‘walking bus’ -  in which a group of children walk to school chaperoned by one or more adults - is one option to consider. Another is the ‘park and stride’ approach –  which involves driving some of the way, parking (eg at a designated place such as a supermarket or village hall), and then walking the remainder of the journey either with your child or letting them walk the last part alone. The Living Streets website has plenty of info and advice on both these options.

When you think of the health benefits of a bit of extra walking for both you and your child, it makes sense - especially when the exercise is just part of your daily routine. And for some children, walking to school might be the only regular exercise they get. 

Earlier this month, the BBC News website reported the key findings of a survey of 1,500 children aged 6 to 15. A third of the children questioned did not own a bike and yet more than three quarters had a games console. When I was little, I was running round the garden or out on my bike after school. Times have changed but walking is still one of the best ways to stay active. It’s time to reclaim those streets.

Joanna Youngs is a member of the BBC parent panel.

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