Written by Elaine Malcolmson


Why school run when you can school walk?

October is International Walk to School Month. Elaine Malcolmson takes a trot down memory lane and asks why more of us aren’t liberating our children from their car seats.

Back when I was a youth, everyone walked to school. I loved it. Every day was a sunny day, I’d skip along the sidewalk in my denim dungarees, singing, counting (always counting), maybe a chat with my neighbour Gordon, perhaps a quick game of hopscotch with an eight-foot-tall canary. Everything was A-OK.

Now, there is a small chance I’ve got walking to school mixed up with something else I did every day, watching Sesame Street. In reality, the only similarity was that I once tried to poke a big bird with a stick. But I do remember the sense of freedom that came with walking to school and I’ve never felt as mature as the day I realised I could decide when to take my own coat off.

What has brought on this rather confused attempt at reminiscence? October is International Walk to School Month. I only recently learned such a thing existed and it both saddens me that it needs to and heartens me that does.

It is a real shame that more and more children are traveling to school by car. When I think of my own school days, I’m glad International Walk to School Month is aiming to bring back traveling by your own steam.

Walking to school, however, is not a walk in the park. There are difficulties faced and justified reasons not to. One of the practical issues is the amount of stuff children must carry to school: textbooks like breeze blocks and enough PE kit to spend a week on the moors. I see children buckling under the weight of their backpacks and wonder are we educating minds or training commandos? So, schools have a part to play in providing lockers and maybe easing off on uniform to allow for wellies on rainy days.

But some of the problems with walking to school, like high traffic volume and pollution, are overcome by more people walking to school. It can be easy to miss the irony of sitting in a car in a tailback complaining about the traffic congestion. Other barriers range from safety concerns to distance and lack of time to the nature of the environment. The good news is that some creative people have come up with clever solutions to overcome many of these barriers.

One of these simply involves driving some of the way to school and walking the rest. This is the Park and Stride. Park and stride, brilliant. If I’d come up with Park and Stride, I would have changed my name to Genius and booked a round-the-world cruise. It’s inspired. Schools can organise with local businesses to use their car parks as drop off points. It reduces traffic around schools, making the walk safer and more enjoyable. This is the solution for those who can’t walk to school because it is too far, or for parents who need to drive on to work, or for those who just want to show respect for the mastermind behind the Park and Stride.

And Park and Stride is only the start of it, may I now introduce, the Walking School Bus. There are also bike trains and, to overcome my disappointment of not inventing Park and Stride, I’d like to propose scooter trams?

These schemes throw up pictures of streams of children claiming the footpaths as their own. As Shakespeare meant to write: Smiling school kids with their satchels, And smiling morning faces, speeding like a sail, Willingly to school

It is easy to forget the joy of being outside for a short while every day. You can experience first hand the first warm day of spring, see your breath for the first time in the winter, walk through a freezing fog and feel it nip your cheeks. On a walk to school, you can feel the workings of the universe on your very own face.

As a global event, International Walk to School Month highlights this, as one schoolchild spots the leaves changing colour and conkers collecting on the ground, at the other end of the planet another will see the buds of spring and the green returning to the world. All this must be better than being strapped into a car staring at the back of the same upholstered seat every day, the radio telling you about the weather

We all have a part to play in International Walk to School Month. The more people walking, the fewer cars on the road, the safer it feels, the more walking seems like the thing to do. We can also join the campaign for safer places to walk and sign the petition at http://www.walktoschool.org.uk/

Oh, also, walking to school can make children more alert, healthier, increase their sense of wellbeing, improve their road safety sense, give them independence, and provide a fun, social experience (even in the absence of a huge canary).

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Written by Elaine Malcolmson

Elaine Malcolmson is a comedian, writer and science communicator. Raised in Northern Ireland, lived in Wales, now resides in Glasgow – bewildering brogue.