Road Safety for Kids: All Aboard the Walking School Bus
If you can't walk your child to school, other parents can "drive" him there
In the late 1960s, more than 50 percent of kids walked to school. At last count, that number had dropped to a paltry 13 percent.
Why aren’t kids walking to school anymore? Because they live further away than in the past, and their parents fear letting them walk alone.
But there’s an alternative to driving your kid to school every day: the walking school bus.
A walking school bus is simply a group of kids walking to school with one or more adults. According to Safe Routes to School, “It can be as informal as two families taking turns walking their children to school or as structured as a planned route with meeting points, a timetable and a schedule of trained volunteers.”
Some teachers, including a group in Jefferson County, Missouri , have volunteered to “drive” the walking school bus and get the children to school in time for breakfast.
“I think it’s awesome,” Loretta Howard, a mother of two Jefferson students, told the Wichita Eagle. “These are amazing teachers.” Howard has back trouble, so she puts her kids on the “bus” at a nearby crosswalk.
Improving health, saving the planet
Your child has a better chance of having healthy body fat levels and better heart fitness if he or she catches the walking school bus (or bikes or skateboards to school) instead of being driven to school according to a 2011 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.
Other published studies suggest kids who walk or bike to school have a lower body mass index (BMI), smaller waists and better cholesterol levels. This is especially important, say experts, at a time when more kids are heavier than ever before, with a third of all American children and teens overweight or obese.
Other benefits to a walking school bus include a lower carbon footprint, according to Safe Routes To School (SRTS), a national program that encourages children to safely walk and bike to school. “Returning to 1969 levels of walking and bicycling to school would save 3.2 billion vehicle miles, 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide and 89,000 tons of other pollutants — equal to keeping more than 250,000 cars off the road for a year.
Related: Back to School Smarts
Starting the bus
So how do you get started? If you want to start an informal neighborhood group, here are some simple tips from walkingschoolbus.org:
- Invite families who live nearby to walk.
- Pick a route and take a test walk.
- Decide how often the group will walk together.
- Have fun!
If you’re more ambitious and would like to involve your whole school, walkingschoolbus.org offers these pointers:
- Contact parents and children, the principal and school officials, law enforcement officers and other community leaders to see if there’s interest and get them on board.
- Identify the walking routes and test them.
- Make sure there are enough adults to supervise the children who are walking. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends one adult for every six children, unless they’re ages 4 to 6. In that case, the CDC recommends one adult per every three children.)
- Figure out the logistics, including how often the walking bus will operate and where children should meet the bus.
- Involve the kids in safety training prior to starting the bus.
- Kick off the program, perhaps by joining families across the country on International Walk to School Day on October 7.