A generation ago, 70% of children walked to school, but now, less than half do, despite most families living within two miles of their closest primary school. This has negative consequences for the environment, including air pollution, road congestion, and traffic, but also for children themselves, for their mental and physical wellbeing, independence, and road safety skills.
One in five boys and one in six girls of primary school age are classed as physically inactive. This means they’re not undertaking the 60 minutes of physical activity a day that is recommended by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers. This has led to one in three children leaving primary school either overweight or obese, so finding easy, accessible ways for your children to get more active is so important.
This Walk to School Week, Living Streets are working to encourage parents and children to swap the school run for a school walk. So, here are five reasons for you to walk your children to school this May…
Saving some money
Firstly, walking to and from school is completely free! Parents spend a lot of money throughout the year on transport for the school run. This includes paying hiking prices for petrol, or spending on the fare for a bus, train, or tram ride. Instead, you can walk your child to school to help save some money, while getting yourself and the little ones active and healthier in the process.
Protecting the planet
Walking to school can reduce transport emissions and help the environment. The school run alone is responsible for generating half a million tonnes of CO2 per year, contributing to high levels of carbon emissions and air pollution. By swapping a short car journey for a short walk to school, you can help ensure the planet has cleaner air.
Improving the environment doesn’t just cover the air around us, but also the roads and pavements we travel on. During morning peak times, one in five cars on the road are taking children to school, contributing to increased traffic, road congestion, noise pollution, and crowded parked cars near schools. By travelling the route to school on foot instead, we can help to reduce congestion in our local areas, and keep our surrounding roads clear and safe.
Increasing physical activity
Walking to school is an easy and accessible way for your children to start getting active and build more exercise into their daily routines.
Even a short, brisk walk of just 20 minutes to and from school contributes to their recommended 60 minutes a day of exercise, and can have fantastic mental and physical health benefits. This not only improves children’s health, but also the parents and carers that are walking the child to school too.
Walking helps to prevent long-term chronic health conditions such as certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, and improves the management of existing conditions. Walking has also been shown to reduce the likelihood of developing heart and lung conditions including high blood pressure. In fact, direct NHS savings from an increase in urban walking and cycling have been estimated at £17billion over 20 years.
Supporting your children to be more physically active from a young age instils good lifelong habits, and increases the likelihood that they will continue to be physically active as adolescents and adults.
Enhancing mind and mood
Walking is not only good for children’s bodies, but also for their minds and mood.
15% of children aged 10-15 demonstrate symptoms of mental ill-health (ONS, 2018), which is a worrying statistic. But the potential mental health benefits of encouraging your children to walk to school from a young age are significant.
Walking stimulates the release of neurotransmitters and brain chemicals, including endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin. These trigger positive and happy feelings, and helps improve mental wellbeing, and reduce stress and anxiety. Over half of parents interviewed in 2016 said that their child’s mood always or sometimes improves after walking to school (OnePoll, 2016).
Regular walking and exercise can help children fall asleep more quickly and achieve more quality rest. Having an active lifestyle can also tackle more serious forms of mental health issues, including depression and social withdrawal.
Walking to school can additionally aid children’s productivity, supporting teachers and schools to achieve the best learning outcomes. It has been shown that children who walk to school arrive feeling more refreshed, alert and ready to learn. Children’s behaviour and concentration can also improve as a result.
Connecting with people and the world around us
Walking is the perfect way for children to get out in nature, enjoy the fresh air, relax, and connect with the world and those around them.
While walking on the way to school or on the way back home, you should encourage your children to take time to absorb the sights, smells and sounds they encounter, and count how many different interesting things they see in the local area. This helps to redirect their mental awareness to the environment, which can quieten the mind and focus it on the present moment. This brings a sense of calm to reduce heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension. It can also help children have a better understanding of their hometown and neighbouring areas.
To make the walk more enjoyable, you can take some pictures of them, the greenery, nature and other lovely sights along the way on your camera or mobile phone. This can capture some long-lasting memories and help you to engage with your children.
A walk to school can also help children connect with other people and aid social development. This can be with friends that they’re walking with or see along the journey, or even others in the area by giving a friendly smile or saying hello to a passer-by.
By walking with your children, it also allows you as a parent to spend quality time with your child, giving them a positive avenue to express their thoughts and feelings, help reduce any feelings of loneliness and isolation, and enable you to provide them with emotional support.
Living Streets, the UK charity for everyday walking, hosts the five-day annual Walk to School Week challenge, which this year is from 16th-22nd May 2022. This is a celebration of walking to school during National Walking Month in May, to make pupils experience first-hand the importance of walking. Last year, a record number of over 350,000 pupils across the UK took part, and parents, teachers and schools can join this growing movement now!