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Bringing into Being the Future We Wish to Live in
Active and Safe Routes to School: The Healthy Way to Go!
Looking for a Better Way
Driving a car may seem pretty effortless and convenient. But like too much of anything, it can sometimes create problems. As more and more Canadian families acquire two cars, and more and more mothers go to work, driving children to school looked like a sensible thing to do to save time and effort. Like driving anywhere, it seemed faster, safe and comfortable.
But over time, some mothers of schoolchildren began to realize that driving had made some things change things that weren’t so good. They didn’t see as much of their neighbours when they all drove their families around alone. Not many people walked on the streets any more, so it didn’t feel as safe. This made even more mothers began to drive their children to school. In the 1970, 80% of schoolchildren walked to school. By the 1990s, that figure was down to only 10%.
As more people drove everywhere, the traffic got worse, the air became dirtier, and people became increasingly worried about their children walking anywhere without an adult’s company. Some of the driving mothers began to realize that they and their children were spending less time outdoors, getting less exercise, and even sometimes becoming overweight. And, as heavy traffic congestion grew, making them spend even more time in their cars, people felt they were losing their sense of community.
There’s a new kind of bus afoot: The Walking School Bus
And so, in the 1990s, a new (but very time-honoured) way of getting to school was invented: The Walking School Bus! A simple-seeming solution, perhaps, but an idea that seemed different and even revolutionary in North American car-dependent societies. The idea:
people with children got together in their neighbourhoods, and organized a rotating schedule of adult “drivers” who would take turns walking groups of local children to school.
The idea began in Denmark. It soon spread to Australia and England. And then Greenest City introduced it in Canada http://www.greenestcity.org/. Greenest City is a Toronto environmental organization that works with the city’s many communities on action-oriented environmental projects that increase urban sustainability. They introduced a Safe Routes to School program in 1996. Its goal was to help school communities take action in reclaiming the streets for families and children.
Safety, Health and Environment
Safe Routes to School put two important benefits together: child health and safety, and action on global warming. Getting children and their parents out of cars (reducing greenhouse gases), and walking together (providing exercise and building community), did both of these things, simply. The Safe Routes to School Program includes three key activities:
1. Blazing Trails Through the Urban Jungle a mapping exercise designed to be done in school as part of the social studies curriculum. Students study and draw their local neighbourhood. They find the safest routes for walking or cycling to school. The learn to identify traffic hazards, and they mark the supervised crossings.
2. “Walking School Buses” groups of school children led by parent “bus drivers” who take turns accompanying their own and neighbouring children safely to school. The “buses” have pre-set routes which everybody knows. There is one parent/caregiver for every 3 to 4 children. If the Walking School Bus gets too large it can be split into two groups. Some Walking School Buses provide children “passengers” with bright yellow scarves or caps to identify them and make them brightly visible.
3. Creating a “No-Idling Zone” outside the school raising awareness of air quality for parents who drive to school is the third component of the Safe and Active Routes to School program. It can be achieved through signs or student monitors requesting that parents turn off their engines while waiting for their children. No Idling Zones improve the air quality near the school and cut down on greenhouse gases.
Did you know·.
- 31% of Canadian children do not get the physical activity they need to develop cardio-vascular fitness, muscle strength and flexibility.
- Over 25% of Canadian children are considered overweight.
- According to an Environics survey 68% of Canadian children have a walk to school of 30 minutes or less but only 36% walk as a rule.
- Active and Safe Routes to School programs in Denmark over the past 20 years have reduced traffic injuries in children by 85%.
Success! and a Big Walk!
Greenest City have helped over 600 schools in Ontario get Active and Safe Routes to School Programs started. For a list of participating schools, you may visit their website at http://www.greenestcity.org/active.html . The program has also grown to become part of a national “Go for Green” Active Living and Environment Program.
And every year, everyone is invited to participate in International Walk to School Day (IWALK) in October a wonderful celebration of healthy activity and community. On October 8, 2003, schools in every Canadian province and territory joined millions of students, parents, teachers and community leaders around the world as they walked to school to promote safety, health, physical activity and concern for the environment. Participating countries in this event included Canada, the United States, Mexico, Great Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Italy, India, Australia, New Zealand and other countries (for a whopping 28 in total!).
For information on how to participate in – or organize you own or another local school to join in – this exciting internationl event, visit the Official Website of International Walk to School at http://www.iwalktoschool.org/.
Walking and Cycling to School Great Climate Change Actions!
Kids, parents and caregivers across Canada are now walking or cycling to school on a regular basis, making friends, being more active. And they’re taking care of the environment at the same time. Leaving the family car at home is one of the top ways to take action on climate change and it can be easy, sociable and fun!
Create your own activities.