We hear it all the time: How great it is for kids to walk to school. How when we were young we all walked to school.
And I agree. I am a huge fan of having some quiet between getting ready for school, and arriving at school -- especially if the getting ready for school hasn't gone so smoothly. A little walk to shrug off home, movement to help settle in for a day of concentrating, and fresh air is a great way to start the day.
But sadly, times have changed. Schools are no longer automatically built in new neighbourhoods. Schools that do get built are larger and serve multiple neighbourhoods. Schools in older neighbourhoods that are no longer full of school-aged kids have declining enrolment and in some cases are closing. Alternate programming is available at some schools, but not necessarily close to where we live.
In addition to those easy-to-see factors, times have changed in other, more significant ways too. In many families, both parents work outside the home, and both parents have cars. That wasn't the case 40 years ago. Then, many mothers stayed home, and not all them had vehicles.
When most kids walked to school, they easily met up with a gang of kids to walk to their neighbourhood school. All along the route, moms were home and able to help if anyone needed it. And at the school itself, there were likely no buses, no crazy traffic of parents dropping kids off in the mad dash to get to work, no chaos.
None of that is true in my neighbourhood today.
On the walk to school in our neighbourhood, we pass about 30 houses. I know of only one that has kids that go to the school, or even attends an elementary school. Down the street in the other direction there are about 20 houses. Again, there is only one house that attends the local school, and only two others that have kids in elementary school at all.
Of the people I know on both those streets, there are only two others that don't really work outside the home. Yes, there are seniors, but they provide a different level of comfort than a gaggle of moms sending kids out the door every morning, or waiting for kids at the end of the day.
Then you reach the school, a school built as a community school that kids would walk to everyday. Now though, it's a school that has kids designated to it who live miles away. These kids have to get to school somehow, so there are buses and lots of traffic -- all arriving to drop off or pick up within a 15-20 minute window, twice a day.
And many of these drivers are in a rush - to drop off the kids and get to work, to pick up the kids and get to an activity, to just get on with life. They don't have time to follow the rules of the road, or maybe drive a bit further to avoid the three point turn in the middle of the road in front of the school, or to even walk to the crosswalk rather than jay walk. Schools are a gong show.
No wonder parents hesitate to letting their kids walk alone, if they are even in a position to do so.
I admit though, I'm part of the problem. We didn't chose our neighbourhood school. We picked the next school over because of French Immersion. We can walk, but it takes over 1/2 hour one way if I'm with the kids, longer when everything is covered in ice like it is at the moment. We love the bike ride (on which I still accompany the kids because of traffic on the way), but I find it hard to bike in the winter with them, and Kerry can't do it every day. So we drive at the moment.
However, to the parents that drive to school, we can still fit in a walk before school to help our kids get ready to learn. Just don't park close to the school.
We don't even try to park in front of the school. We've tried a variety of parking spots away from the school, but our favourite starts on a beautiful footpath that ends at the school. There's no traffic to manoeuvre, no noise, no hustle or bustle. The kids can walk, talk, run, kick hunks of snow, meander off the path or do whatever they need to do to get ready for school. As an added benefit at the moment, the paths are plowed resulting in a huge pile of snow that no kid can just walk past. You have to climb to the top and slide down at least once.
The kids have yet to complain about this walk and they know it's part of our routine. I do still walk with them because the path spills out in front of the school at a crosswalk. Not enough drivers seem to care about the rules for me to trust my kids alone at the moment. But at least the kids get the walk and no matter what went on before, by the time they arrive at the school they are smiling and happy to continue with their day.
If you haven't tried parking further from the school and walking, do try it for a few days. It's tough to squeeze a few extra minutes out of the morning, but for us, the effort is worth it.