Walking to school teaches valuable skills

IT'S morning and I'm about to leave for a 9 a.m. meeting

I need a half an hour so I leave at around 8: 30 a.m. Easy, right?

Yes, it's easy in the summer but during the school year I need to be extremely strategic. We live two blocks from a middle school and in the morning it can be nearly impossible to break through the bumper-to-bumper traffic that takes over the street in both directions. The same thing happens in the late afternoon.

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What's happening? Parents are delivering their kids to school and picking them up at the end of the day.

It seems like a nice and responsible thing to do, but in fact we are doing our kids no favours when we deliver and pick them up from school. We are missing some great opportunities to help them be healthier and develop high self-esteem. It is a parent's job to help their children achieve independence. Teaching them how to walk to school safely is a good first step.

Dropping kids off at school has become so institutionalized that we have forgotten all the value in having them get themselves from home to the classroom.

Kids who walk or bike to school are getting regular, daily exercise. When they are driven they are being sedentary.

I have driven past schools and watched parents pull up and double and sometimes triple park. They jaywalk with their kids often within yards of a crosswalk and/or a crossing guard, and then they dart back through traffic to get on with their day. It's a nightmare and certainly not safe.

The children are learning that it's OK to ignore the crosswalk and crossing guards. They learn to dodge and weave between cars, and they learn that they are not capable of getting themselves to school.

Those aren't the lessons parents plan on teaching. They want to keep their kids safe. I know that if asked, they would also say that they want their children to become capable and independent.

Walking to school is an important part of growing up and maturing. Kids learn how to get from point A (home) to point B (school). Being able to handle this task builds selfesteem. Self-esteem is built on challenge and eventual success. Learning how to get to school may be an initial challenge for kids but when they succeed it's such a good feeling.

I know you don't want your child walking all by himself or herself. The trick is to talk to your neighbours, talk to the parent committee, and watch to see who travels the same routes as you. If you can sell the members of your child's class or the parents at a parent committee meeting on the value of children walking to school you're in good shape.

So how can you make this happen? It starts tomorrow. You need to teach your kids how to make the walk and where they are going. So take your child by the hand and start walking. As you walk, you talk. Describe where you are and where you are going. Point out some of the potential hazards they will face. Teach them how to cross the streets.

After a few days of this, reverse position. Now the child talks and leads the walk telling you where they are going and how they will do it. The next step is letting them go first, with you following and just watching. You will be amazed at how competent and capable they have become.

Still nervous? For parents who are not ready to let their kids walk on their own, an alternative is to set up a walking school bus program. Check out www.walkingschoolbus.org for more information. In this program a designated parent (you can take turns) walks a pre-determined route picking up kids on the way until they're at the school. So there is an adult, but at least the kids are walking and learning how to behave on neighbourhood streets. The walking school bus can be a transition so that eventually the kids will be walking without an adult leader.

The positive is that there is an adult with the kids and they are getting some exercise before they have to sit still in class. However, they are not learning to get places on their own, which is why I suggest this be a transition move, not a permanent move.

Do your kids a favour. Start to teach them now so that by the first day of school in September they will comfortably and confidently head off to meet their new teacher and start another school year.

Kathy Lynn is a professional speaker, broadcaster, columnist and author of Who's In Charge Anyway? How Parents Can Teach Children to Do the Right Thing. For more information, visit her website at www. parentingtoday.ca.

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