The answer is probably “yes.” Yes, your child – every child – should walk to school if it’s possible to do so. There are solid reasons why.
First off, early morning exposure to the outdoors contributes to better sleep at night. This is so counter-intuitive that it needs some explanation. Sunlight tells the brain to wake up and resets a person’s biological clock. Without this reset, the brain’s natural cycle is longer than 24 hours, meaning that a person is likely to gradually go to sleep later and later – and get up later and later. To keep the brain on track, outdoor light early in the morning (even on cloudy days) is important.
To wake your child’s head up for school and get your child’s head to sleep at night, walking to school is the perfect solution.
Second, early morning exercise has been demonstrated to increase learning and lead to academic success. A study at one high school that compared students who started the day with gym class to those who took gym later in the day found great increases in academic success among the early exercises. In fact, students with first-period gym and who had access throughout the day to exercise equipment doubled their reading scores and increased their math scores by as much as 20 times.
Walking to school is a simple way to get early exercise into the day. Walking gets the brain going, increases oxygen to the brain and releases neurotrophic factors essential to brain health. Walking anytime during the day can do this, but why not start the day off right?
In earlier eras, all children walked to school. We’ve fallen so much into the habit of transportation to school that even when a child is not eligible for school bus service, parents are likely to drive their child to school in the family car. This leads to congestion around schools twice each day, contributes to air pollution around school buildings, and adds to the danger for children as they enter and exit the school. You can reverse this trend and make your child smarter at the same time. Here are some tips.
- Walk to school with your child. There are few greater pleasures than walking and talking to and from school. The walk back home alone is the perfect time to think about your own day too.
- Link up with other parents and take it in turns to walk to and from school with children from several families. Organize a Walking Schoolbus in your neighborhood.
- Drive part way if the walk is too long. Parking several blocks from the school and walking the rest of the way gives your child the benefits of an early morning walk but keeps the distance manageable and reduces traffic around the school.
- Walk to school in the morning and let your child take the bus or a car home.
- Don’t let the weather stop you. Remember that weather almost always seems worse from inside the house. Get out in the weather and enjoy every day, not just the sunny ones.
- Just do it. There are lots of excuses. Don’t accept any of them. Instead, work through solutions to the barriers and make walking to school what your child does.
How would the day be different if it started more calmly, with a bit of exercise, a bit of seeing what’s happening in the neighborhood, a bit of conversation with your child? If you think that recapturing just a bit of a past pattern might get the day off right, then do it. Start a trend. Let your child walk to school.
© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.