An early morning walk to school is the perfect way to start the day. Walking to school means you and your child can explore the environment, discover new things and it doesn’t hurt that it builds exercise in to our day. The home-to-school walk offers easy quality time (assuaging irrational guilt if you’re working late) and a chance to chat about the day ahead.
Walking to school has been in the news this week: an article on the BBC website brought to my attention the charity Living Streets which aims ‘to create safe, attractive, enjoyable streets where it’s great to walk’. A survey commissioned by Living Streets as part of their Walk to School Week had found that fewer and fewer children are walking to school.
The issue is a complex one: parents may work long hours and children often attend a school that’s simply not within sensible walking distance. This is a particular issue here in Trafford. It is commonplace for secondary students to travel from Urmston to locations as far-flung as Knutsford (15 miles away) or Hale Barns (12 miles away). Walking to school is not always a practical option.
My own son’s school is a bit of a hike at 1.1 miles. The railway line and a preponderance of golf courses mean the area between our house and school is not densely populated, hence the wider-than-usual catchment area. A warm drive to school can be tempting when the weather is wild, yet whenever I find myself driving to school, I regret it as soon as I arrive at the first set of traffic lights. The sheer stress of dealing with other drivers, waiting in jams and the constant need to ensure one is not running over someone else’s child presents a grim start to the day.
The walk to school, on the other hand, offers an experience rich with educational possibilities – from learning about road safety to gaining an understanding of the changing seasons. Here are some of the activities we have enjoyed on our walks to school.
Whether you live in an urban area or a rural paradise, there are generally alternative routes you can explore. Visit www.walkit.com to input your starting location and destination to find different routes for your walk. We generally choose to walk over the muddy, overgrown paths by the railway line as they offer an escape from the urban landscape, but there is also a route past the churchyard (history lessons are abundant in the gravestones) and a field with goats, donkeys and cows and a more metropolitan route past houses and shops.
The walk to school is a great way to engage with nature, note the changing of the seasons and begin to find out how the world works. You can help your child get more out of the walk to school by pointing out different features in the environment, such as new leaves appearing on trees, how the sky looks, or whether the light is changing as you walk. My little boy got a microscope for Christmas and we sometimes take a jam jar to fill with ‘interesting specimens’ for later inspection. Good specimens include leaves, fallen petals or recently deceased bugs or worms. You can also take photos, rub trees or pause to sketch if you are super-organised and leave early enough.
Many an artistic creation can be put together from found detritus on the school walk, but we employ our walk-to-school creativity in a more cerebral manner. Making up stories is great fun and there is always inspiration in the local landscape. A larger-than-average snail recently sparked a marvellous saga about a giant superhero mollusc; then there was the tale of the enchanted tornado, powered entirely by trainers discarded at the roadside. Lots of our stories are about trees. Children love coming up with stories without the pressure of translating them to written form. We make them up, taking turns to contribute, and then we forget them. The beauty of the exercise is that it encourages the generation of ideas, good and bad: essential for developing creativity.
The walk to school is a good time to test spellings or times tables in a low-pressure environment, but sometimes we just walk along in silence. Living Streets has lots of information about the health and environmental benefits of walking to school, as well as ideas for walking schemes. Walking to school is not practical or possible for everyone but the advantages are huge, so do try it if you are able and see how much you and your child(ren) enjoy it.