Playful walking to school

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Friday 23rd of May is National Walk Safely To School day in Australia. Families are encouraged to walk their children to school or to the bus stop, rather than drive. If you drive out of habit, give walking a go.

Why walk to school?

Walking instead of driving reduces air pollution and traffic congestion, increases your fitness, slows down the pace of your day, and gives you the opportunity to teach your kids about road safety. Walk Safely to School day encourages parents to hold the hands of children up to the age of 10 when crossing the road, and talk about how to stay safe as a pedestrian. When I’m in walking in town, I also teach my child caution about approaching strange dogs, and when to approach strange humans.

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When you walk, you notice things that aren’t visible from the car. You have the chance to talk to neighbours and other schoolkids. You can smell flowers poking through the fence, talk about the things you see, inspect insects on the path, read signs together, and track the progression of the seasons with all five senses. Or four, at least.
If you live close enough to your kids’ school, you can walk with your kids or send older children by themselves. If you’re concerned about safety, consider starting up a ‘walking bus’, where one or two parents supervise a group of walking children and take turns to do the school run.
If you do apps, there’s a free one on http://www.walk.com.au I don’t use apps, so I haven’t checked this out.
Walking takes a little longer than driving (mostly – sometimes it’s faster, if you live close or can take a shortcut on foot), but if you can use it to replace other exercise it could save you time as well as gym fees. And it’s good motivation to exercise every weekday.

How we do it

We live 7 kilometres from our school, so we don’t walk there. We can walk to the bus stop, though. That’s only about 1 kilometre. We usually walk one way each school day.
When my child is with me, we stop a lot and keep an erratic pace. Sometimes he runs, sometimes he hides behind trees, sometimes he wants to poke muddy puddles. It’s less stressful to pick him up from school by foot rather than drop him off in the morning, because we can walk as slowly as we like on the way home. If I need him to walk faster, I make up all sorts of games. We play chasey, monster games, pretend I’m boosting his energy when I hold his hand, give him ‘special’ leaves that make him ‘rocket-powered’, pretend he’s a superhero, and have races. I tell him how strong and fast he is, how big his legs are and what a good walker he is. Occasionally I pick him up and carry him some of the way. Having a good walk seems to calm him and use up some of his excess energy, helping him to manage himself better.

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On the way there to pick him up, I can run as fast as I like. I run in bursts, using the walking pace as a warm up. When I feel out of breath, I pick a landmark a little way ahead where I will let myself go back to walking again. Just a bit further… if I push on, it becomes easier. Travelling the same route every day makes it clear how my fitness is increasing, as I increase the running stretches. When I feel uncoordinated and want to give up, I imagine my legs helpfully pushing me along, how smoothly I can stride, how wonderfully my legs support me. A little psychology makes a big difference, just like the walking games I play with my son.
Raising your heart rate when you exercise increases the fitness of your heart muscle, making it more efficient. It increases your resting metabolism, so even after you stop running, your body burns fat more quickly. And it floods your body with brain chemicals that combat depression and help you sleep. It reduces stress and increases your resilience. Sleep and resilience are two pretty important things for a parent!
I breathe in the damp eucalyptus air, stream through the eddies of sunshine around the slow river, and I arrive at the bus stop with my scalp tingling and a bounce in my step.

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