Walking to school can be funPlaytime Latest

10/02/2014 – Walking to school can be fun

Persuading children they can have fun away from their screens can be a challenge. But there is a way they can have fun, be healthy and even have a positive effect on the planet.  It is quite simply, by walking to school.

Jennifer Keesmaat, Senior Planner in Toronto, Canada discusses the benefits of walking to school in an interesting Ted Talk.  She outlines three important reasons why children should walk to school: to foster childhood autonomy, to tackle the problem of childhood obesity and to reduce our individual carbon footprint.

And lets’ not forget it can be a bit of craic!  Many adults today will remember the fun they had on the walk to school with their friends.  Importantly, fun was listed by children as a key contributor to their health in a study conducted by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

Although they are more likely to be driven these days that trend is less noticeable among children who live in the city where the majority still walk to school.  In the research I conducted with a group of children living in Dublin city, they described many aspects of the walk to school which they enjoyed.  They took great pleasure in the familiar faces along the way such as the Lollipop Lady, a neighbour, a pal they bumped into or someone working locally they have come to know. These brief encounters all brightened up the children’s day and help them feel a sense of belonging in their community. 

How far we are willing to walk seems to depend on local ‘walk appeal’. This is something children have considerable expertise in and they see all kinds of things adults fail to spot.  They notice a variety of animals on the way from snails on the footpath to cats sunning themselves on window sills and even horses kept in makeshift stables along shortcuts they take.  Trees, flowers and grassy verges are described as lovely examples of nature.  An ugly wasteland to me is a field full of potential to them. Children enjoy a beauty along their city routes which adults rarely notice. But they also describe aspects of the city they find disgusting; waste strewn footpaths, dog fouling, graffiti, empty beer cans and bottles, speeding cars and the overpowering noise of traffic are all repulsive and distressing for them. 

If we are to encourage more children to walk to school, we would do well to take note of their experience. We need to enhance the moments of pleasure they identify and address the concerns they raise.  Addressing children’s concerns would also help tackle concerns parents have.Talking to children and engaging them in participative urban planning initiatives is an obvious place to start. They are extremely perceptive and have both practical and quite imaginative solutions.  From saving the planet to the importance of having fun, there is a lot at stake so we would do well to listen, and to act.