Published on March 18, 2015
Students who walk, roll, or take other forms of active transportation to and from school experience many benefits. According to the Active & Safe Routes to School guide for parents, an active school commute helps students meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity, improves their health, happiness and well-being, and contributes to their academic performance by making them “more alert and ready to learn”.
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The right infrastructure can help encourage active transportation by bike. (photo: Justin Nadeau)
What’s more, walking or wheeling to school provides students and their caregivers with opportunities to connect with their community, impacts the environment by reducing traffic congestion and air pollution, and can be more cost-effective than driving over the long-term. Check out this tool to learn customized information on the benefits of active transportation for your route.
Despite the benefits, there are still plenty of reasons why students are not using an active form of transportation for their commute. In the Healthy Futures: 2014 Toronto Public Health Student Survey, commonly reported reasons by students for not using an active mode of transportation to travel to and from: the distance is deemed too far, routes are perceived as unsafe or they are not motivated to use an active mode of transportation because a ride is offered to them.
As a parent, teacher or a caregiver you can play a role in encouraging kids to get active on their commutes by promoting practices that are fun, safe and accessible.
1. Learn about the resources available to you and familiarize yourself with the safety guidelines that apply to your community
- Check to see whether your province offers a cycling manual specifically for young riders like this young cyclist’s guide for Ontario
- Active transportation is a growing interest for public health agencies; for example, Toronto Public Health offers some good tips for incorporating walking or wheeling into your commute and shares advice on building enthusiasm in your school community
- Note that safety requirements vary from province to province, and best practices and cycling by-laws may be specific to your community—your local police service or municipality can be good sources of local information
2. Investigate the community resources local to you—Educational organizations, cycling advocacy groups and bike shops can be additional sources of best-practices information
- The Safe Routes to School website contains a wealth of active transportation-focused resources dealing with traffic safety, health and fitness, and fun activities to engage students
- Cycling advocacy groups may also have resources on cycling safety that can apply to young riders; check out the Cycle Toronto’s Cyclist Handbook for a great example
- Community bike hubs can help support active transportation too; at Evergreen Brick Works, the Bike Works DIY bicycle repair space offers free bike maintenance help and community workshops
3. Active transportation can complement a variety of curriculum areas
- Check out Physical and Health Education Canada’s website to access free lesson plans, focused on safe cycling, for grades 4–6
4. Consider inviting your whole school to take part in events to promote active transportation—Hosting a themed event is a great way to build enthusiasm
- Bike rodeos provide individuals with an opportunity to learn and practice cycling skills in a controlled environment—Peel Region’s Bicycle Rodeo Community Kit provides tips on how to establish a bike rodeo in your community
- Walking/wheeling Wednesdays is a designated day each week/month that is selected to encourage staff and students to travel to and from school in an active way
- On Anything But Car (ABC) Day staff and students are encouraged to travel to and from school using a mode of transportation other than a single-occupancy motorized vehicle
5. Whether at home or at school, kids love connecting to themes on a large scale—In doing so they are able to broaden their perspectives and make real-world connections
- Investigate how your classroom, school or family can participate in one of these local/global events:
o Bike Day in Canada: May 25
o Bike to School Week in the GTHA: May 25–May 29
o Bike month in the GTHA: May 25–June 25
o Car Free Day: Sept 22
o International Walk to School Day: October 7
Whether you encourage walking or wheeling for health, environment, or teaching/learning benefits, the active transportation practices that the kids in your life learn now are sure to be an asset to them long into the future.
By Kristen Evers, Ecoliteracy Facilitator, EcoSchools, Evergreen/TDSB, & LeeAnne MacGregor, Project Manager, National Engagement, Evergreen