By Emily McBurnie
Each weekday morning I get myself and the 2 kids out the door by 8.30 for the walk to school. It is a 20-30 minute uphill hike or 1 mile (1.6 km) to be precise. I was surprised to see just a handful of mums & dads doing the same journey, most opting to get the kids in the car for the 5 minute drive . Of course there are days when I think it would be handy to be in a vehicle, however once we get on our way, the minor complaint soon fades.
For my kids, there is nothing better than large puddles to jump in, or heavy snow so they can ride in the sled. We take the time to talk about our lives, a time to reflect in such a busy world. Last week we heard a chickadee, our favourite Canadian bird. We then spent the rest of our walk trying to mimic the same sound it makes. The journey to school sends us into a magical part of the city, we greet cats and dogs, climb rocks, look into fish ponds outside houses and chat with fellow strollers along the way. Even the not so nice stretch along busy Kingston Rd in Toronto can uncover excitement.Today we saw discarded toilet and then a skunk! Somewhat boring to us adults, but fascinating for kids.
Walking to school is important in so many ways. It develops healthy living patterns from a young age. I walked with my older siblings from my very first day of school.
I did that trek for 13 years. Once it becomes habitual you can't imagine life without it.For me it was a time to socialize with family and friends. When you add that time up over the course of the academic year, it╒s 180 hours without cell phones, TV, car radios or other distractions getting in the way, during our walks to school. That's not taking into account the other benefits of walking, exercise; which is also vital in the fight against depression.
If every child was forced to walk to school in this world, childhood diabetes and obesity would be greatly reduced. On top of that, there would be the flow on effect of less kids in hospital therefore less strain on the health system and the economy. When you look around at the people out walking they are smiling, laughing and happily chatting. A bus goes past us, everyone is crammed in, headphones on, texting, looking miserable,coughing. I know where I would rather be! Out in the fresh air, exploring new things every day and enjoying this precious time with my children.
Tips for walking to school :
1. Always schedule extra time when walking with children. They have little legs and they need time to explore their surroundings on the way.
2. Use the walking time to explore the world as they jump, climb and play their way to their destination encouraging the development of physical gross motor skills. Puddle jump, climb on hills and pick up sticks and leaves on the way. Their way is not the direct way.
3. Encourage outdoor education by looking at the flowers and trees you see along the way. Name the flowers and trees you see, to the kids, if you can't name it, look it up when you get home.
4. Teach them traffic rules and to respect the road, be a good roll model for them.
5.Be seen, be safe wear safety reflectors
6. Kids always like to have a friend to walk with, it makes the walk more fun! Maybe you can get another family to walk with you,- Start a walking School bus
Emily McBurnie is a journalist/news anchor who works in film in Toronto. She has two girls, aged 4 and 1 and never misses a day going outdoors with the kids, even in a snowstorm!