Thursday, October 19, 2006

Going to school

An email received today invites me to take part in creating a different travel to school plan for our children in the village. A recent questionnaire highlighted that although our children would like to walk and cycle to school it is not always possible and safe to do so. What has resulted, is a working party that will work with the children to look at obstacles to getting to school without using the car.
Most children get driven to school and that has consequences for their health as well as their development. How are they going to figure out which way to walk, which street to take, if they sit in the back of a car? As a child I had to walk across town to school and while walking, I used my senses to find my way through, I would meet people, get an awareness of what was happening. On other days, I would pass shops before they opened and see people starting their day, some would smile and others would be too busy but within all that was a sense of belonging, and a connection between home and school which took me on a familiar route. When my daughter walked to school, one neighbour used to set her watch by it, when my daughter left, it signalled the start of her day. I feel some of that has been lost over the last 10 years.
Living in town, its quite easy to navigate and learn road safety but in the countryside, drivers drive fast and children and adults can often not be seen and then to avoid collision, pedestrians often have to jump in a hedge, literally to get out of the path of a fast driving car. There are no streetlights in the country lanes.
In the meantime, walking to school for my son would mean a 3 mile walk each day which would probably be good for his health, He would require boots and wet weather gear during the wintertime and certainly a torch and reflective lights. He could cycle but then again, there is no storage at the school for his bike and he would need to have a lot more training on road safety and also learn the basics of how to look after a bike, how to mend a puncture etc.
I am excited to be part of this study, which hopefully will engage not only the children, staff and parents but also the wider community to make a change and reduce our dependance on fossil fuels and cars. What is exciting also is that some footpaths may well be rediscovered and used which in turn will mean that the children and adults will discover the wildlife and wild flowers that make the hedgerows their habitat.
Going to school by car may have been quicker but a lot has been missed too. Go discover a new school, to work.....


Anonymous said...

I remember going to school in surburban London in the 50s. We had to walk a mile and catch a bus - can you imagine at 6 years old. We roamed footpaths and fields, dabbled in brooks and sat in meadows, looked for birdsnests in hedgerows - inconceivable for children now. In the US where I live now children are taken to school in big yellow buses but some walk. Good luck with the study.

Anonymous said...

Recently this has been an issue in Japan, too. Mostly safety issues as some city children have no choice but to walk.

It is the tradition for children to walk in neighbourhood groups, with the older kids supervising the younger ones. In my town, some kids will walk an hour!

Some towns involve the whole community. Many mothers are busy, so volunteers were called for. For example, retired people who like walking anyway, could walk to school with children. Volunteers can walk just part of the way, where another volunteer takes over.

The town also calls on residents to do their regular outdoor things at the 'going to school' and 'coming home' time. That is, if you have a dog, why not take it for a walk while the children are going to school? If many neighbours walk the school routes everyday, it creates a safter environment. Elderly people or others who can't go out can garden at that time so they are in the front yard to keep an eye on kids and to discourage strangers.

Basically, the whole idea is that the community works together to make things more like they were in 'the old days'.

Older children (say 6th graders) can have a homework project of walking some of the regular routes to make a 'hazard map'. Blind corners, bad roads, places where strangers can hide, etc. The map is then distributed so that younger kids and adults can be on the lookout there.

Best of luck with your plans!