Teaching Children the Importance of an Active Commute
Let’s talk about the school commute. I’m sure we have all heard the classic complaint from our grandparents, “when I was your age, I had to walk 7 km to school. Uphill both ways!” While that is met with an eye-roll, we can't deny that on any given weekday morning, there is a line up of vehicles idling to drop off their child(ren) so they don’t have to walk far to their school’s front entrance. In some ways, this is a good thing; more people have access to vehicles and the ability to ensure children get to school safely. On the other hand, we are taking away our children’s opportunities for daily activity and independence. Recently, Naomi Buck published an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail titled "Why did our children stop walk to school?” that touched on how our morning school drop-offs have changed in the past couple of decades. I highly recommend the article, it had me thinking about how my commute has changed from when I was a child. Now we have talked at length regarding how an active commute can benefit us as working adults, but we have never really touched on the active commute for children.
The Government of Canada recommends that children between the ages of 5 to 17 should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. If we swapped the commute to and from school from being inside a car to walking or other active means – it might just be the perfect and practical opportunity to introduce some activity into your child(ren)’s life.
Benefits of an Active Commute
There are so many benefits to an active commute, normally when people talk about their commute, they are referring to working adult professionals heading to their busy downtown office. However, commuting can come in many different forms for different people. From your child(ren) going to school to university students heading to their lecture, to the construction worker going to site for the day. We all have the need to travel between point A to B, it is apart of our routine we can transform from pure dread to fun and enjoyment by introducing an active mode of transport and can enrich your day.
Adding some activity, like walking or biking, can provide many benefits. Some of these benefits include improved sleep, increased happiness; decrease stress, and fresh air. Last year I wrote a blog on the benefits of biking to work, I listed 15 benefits which included mental health benefits of improved brainpower to community benefits of safer roads. I encourage you to check out the blog and consider trading in your car for a bike as the weather warms up.
Teaching Healthy Habits
According to a study done by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation found that parents have significant potential to influence their children when it comes to things like eating habits and physical activity. The best way to teach children healthy habits is to include them in the process, make it a family activity. If you demonstrate to children that driving to and from school every day is the best way to commute, they will learn this behaviour as the best option. Establish healthy habits start early on so children can adopt these habits as their own.
Alternatives to Driving
Driving isn’t the only way to get your children to school. Here are some ideas on how you can bring some movement into your children’s commute:
If you are within walking distance, try walking them to school instead of driving. Walking is a great way to add in some physical activity. There is such a big push for adults to get in their 10,000 steps a day, but children need this kind of activity too. Making walking apart of their daily route early in their life will help them maintain activity levels well into adulthood.
School or Public Transit
If you aren’t close enough to walk, try talking transit. If your city has a school bus system, allow your kids to take that! If not, try using the city transit system. This adds in walking (to and from the stops) plus it teaches children how to use a transit system independently. Transit systems can be confusing at first, children who were taught by their parents are more likely to use the system as they get older. Transit systems encourage a slightly more active commute and help to reduce emissions and volume on roads.
Let them pick their wheels
Chances are, your children already love to ride their bike, skateboard, scooter, rollerblade or whatever on their own leisure time. Weather permitting, these are also viable options for their daily commute. It also introduces responsibility on how to lock up their belongings and learn traffic rules. By allowing your child(ren) to commute on whatever mode of transport, it takes the tediousness of the journey and transforms the commute to fun!
Our grandparents might have been on to something: we have been so used to the sedentary luxury of driving everywhere that children miss out on walking and being active during the school commute. Minor changes such as prepping lunch and laying out clothes the night before or making portable breakfasts can greatly improve the speediness of the morning routine. It is simple changes and small commitments that become lifelong habits. We encourage parents to consider a more active school commute as it helps to promote healthy and active habits that will follow children into adulthood.