January 22nd, 2021

The benefits of walking to school

By Submitted Article on September 11, 2020.

Megan Burland

Lethbridge Community Health Services

When I was a kid, I did not enjoy walking to school. Once, after a major snowstorm, rather than driving me to school, my mom had my older brothers shovel me a path through the field behind our house so I could still walk – I was not a fan of this system.

Now, when I return to the neighbourhood I grew up in, I realize just how close we lived to my school. I’m grateful that I was able to walk as this helped to teach me the value of physical activity. Sure, I longed to take the bus like my friends, but walking to school was great exercise and taught me important skills.

When deciding whether your student is ready to walk to school, there are many important considerations including the complexity of the route. Parachute suggests that to cross a street safely by themselves, children need three important skills:

– Ability to decide on and use a safe crossing route;

– Ability to properly assess a vehicle’s speed; and

– Ability to judge safe gaps in traffic.

While your child is developing these skills, an adult’s presence is important. Walking with your child can give you an excellent opportunity to talk to them about pedestrian safety and role model the principles.

Alberta Motor Association (AMA) does important work to promote pedestrian safety. Allison Purcell-Pike is a co-ordinator of the AMA School Safety Patrol. I asked her to share some tips for parents on how to know when your child is ready to walk to school. Here is what Allison had to say:

“We all have an important role to play in building up our school communities, and traffic safety in school zones is a great example of this. Increased congestion around schools creates traffic safety concerns and parents can play a major role in contributing to safer school streets. >

“Parents should consider parking further away from the school and walking with their children. There are benefits to this beyond safety, including health and wellness, as well as time to connect with your child while enjoying nature.

“So parents should consider how to make walking to school an option for their children, some safety tips for this include to pre-walk the route with students before the start of school, consider organizing a small group of close friends to walk together while remaining physically distanced.

“When students walk to school, remind them to pay attention to their surroundings, not having distractions such as devices, or ear buds when crossing, also to always use crosswalks, cross at corners and to never jaywalk.”

Purcell-Pike added it’s important students remember to use the three P’s when crossing: point, pause and proceed.

– POINT their arm to indicate to drivers that they wish to cross;

– PAUSE to check for traffic, making eye contact with drivers, and when it is safe to cross; and

– PROCEED to walk, paying attention and checking as they are crossing. If AMA School Safety Patrollers are at the crosswalk, please give them space to run their procedures for a safe crossing and always continue to look while crossing.

If you are looking for more information, there are some wonderful resources available through Parachute by visiting https://parachute.ca/en/injury-topic/pedestrian-safety/.

Megan Burland is a Health Promotion Facilitator at Lethbridge Community Health Services and can be reached at Megan.Burland@ahs.ca.

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