I consider it to be common knowledge now that we all need to move our bodies, more so than ever before. For our kids, it is recommended that they get 60 mins of moderate to vigorous activity per day. How do we help them reach this goal when they are at school, sleep, need to eat, get to and from school, and play all while functioning within a family unit and meeting its unique demands?

While some exercise is had during school hours, it is rarely at a vigorous level that is sustained for more than a few minutes at a time – really, this is possibly the greatest challenge of teaching physical education: keeping students moving constantly (and we don’t even have a phys ed specialist at our school…). When we have extreme weather as we have had the last ten days or so, practically every child is inside for those 10 hours and not getting the time to play outside at the recess or lunch breaks. (Which, to be honest, needs a whole other group to start up a Polar Bear Club…)

How to fit it all in?

So, 10 hours sleeping, 7 hours school, 1 hour in the morning to eat and get ready for school, 1.5 hours in the evening to eat and get ready for bed, at least 0.5 hr of commuting (if not more like an hour or two throughout the day) leaves at most 4 hours to squeeze in this required activity, through free play or scheduled sports programs. But we all know how those 4 hours slip away doing chores, meeting the needs of another child or family member, driving to activities, and so on. And we all need some down time reading a good book or what have you.

Only 35% of kids are reaching the recommended physical activity levels for their age group.

Our childhood vs. theirs

A huge boon to our children’s daily activity levels would be to really promote active travel, that is walking or biking to school. Raise your hand if you walked or biked to school when you were a kid? Biked? Took the school bus?

Walking and biking levels are down significantly since we were kids. But the factoid that is really striking is that private car use has more than doubled since we were kids (and that is a Canada-wide statistic; I’d be really curious to know how that changed between the 2016-17 and the 2017-18 school years in Calgary when we had a huge change in our school bus system – anecdotally I have heard of more car use and extremely busy pick-up/drop-off areas at schools since this shift). So, fewer kids are taking the bus to get to and from school and more are arriving or departing by private vehicle. Twice as many cars are gracing the school drop-off/pick-up scene as when we were kids. And at our school, many of the parents and caregivers driving these cars are only thinking of their own kids, which is disgusting.

What’s the problem? Or rather, who?

We can blame externalities all we want but ultimately we are the masters of our own schedules, especially at such a largely affluent school as ours.

We are the problem. Us parents and/or our caregivers. Witnessed during pick-up and drop-off at our very own school:

  • Parents or caregivers park on corners making it extremely challenging or next to impossible to cross the street safely because sight-lines are very obscured or completely absent, not to mention not even being able to get a stroller through at times for some families.
  • Parents or caregivers pull u-turns during busy pick-up/drop-off times. I don’t need to explain how dangerous that is.
  • Parents or caregivers constantly ignore the requests from the school to conform to provincial regulations, local by-laws, and common courtesy.
  • Parents or caregivers are not adequately removing snow from their vehicles.
  • Parents or caregivers constantly park where the school bus is meant to. This is also extremely inconsiderate.

So, why would you want your kid walking or cycling to school? This all sounds pretty scary to me. Because the benefits of marketing active travel to our school are huge. Walking or cycling to school can:

  • Help to meet the 60 mins of moderate to vigorous exercise per day which is linked to improved physical health
  • Is positively associated with mental health benefits including reduced stress, depression & anxiety, as well as increased happiness.
  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions and particulate air pollution around the school; improved air quality, which is associated with reduced risks of lung & cardiovascular diseases.
  • Reduces traffic volumes, creating safer school zones.

And what we all want:

  • Better academic performance: increased alertness and attention during the day, plus healthy brain development due to physical activity, leading to improved learning and academic outcomes.

And, establishing these habits early on in life is essential for our kids. Walking and cycling have both been touted as ‘miracle pills’ and ‘wonder drugs’ with respect to many if not all aspects of health and well-being. In addition, these habits may very well be at the foundation of whether or not we are able to sustain our universal health care system.

Myth-busting

Driving is one of the most dangerous things we can do with our children, statistically-speaking. The misconception is that walking and cycling are both dangerous options. When we have the horrible manners that we have around our school, yes, people driving can endanger our children in the small radius around our school and we need that to change in order to get more parents on board with active travel. Otherwise, people are going to retreat into what they perceive as their safe and convenient metal bubble.

Change-making

They say it takes at least 21 days to establish new habits, I have a feeling it might take even longer to change the driving habits of our families. But, we need to. I’m here for 5.5 more years and I would like to help increase the number of kids walking and cycling to school.

We also need to keep it fun. For fun, I propose that we participate in the city-wide Bike to School Day on June 5th this year. I believe this will officially be the first time.

And, in order to help facilitate more active transportation to and from school, I would like to write a Google Survey that could be emailed out to families.

References & resources

  1. http://ontarioactiveschooltravel.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Making-the-Case-for-Active-School-Travel-Fact-Sheet-and-Reference-List…..pdf
  2. School Travel Planning: Introduction for Parentshttp://ontarioactiveschooltravel.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/STP-Introduction-for-Parents-2018-En..pdf
  3. SHAPE Manual: Alberta’s Active and Safe Routes to School http://kleurvision.hitlogic.ca/shape/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/ShapeManual.pdf
  4. The Canadian STP Toolkit: Guide for Facilitatorshttp://ontarioactiveschooltravel.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Guide-for-Facilitators-STP-Toolkit-May-2018-En-1.pdf