Snow crunching underfoot and Chick-a-dees twittering in your ear; you don’t have to visit Jackson Park to experience the sights and sounds of nature this winter. In Peterborough, you will find all this and more on a short walk to school, work, or the corner store.
Next Wednesday, February 3rd, children across Canada are encouraged to grab their warm winter mitts and toques, and join Winter Walk to School Day. This national initiative to embrace winter ties in nicely with the local Car Free School Days program, which promotes using active and sustainable transportation for trips to and from school.
A typical morning in Peterborough sees nearly 35% of elementary school students getting a drive to school. Many of these children live within the school’s walking zone, or on a school bus route. Car Free School Days aims to get kids out walking, biking, or riding the bus once a week, on Wednesdays.
The Car Free School Days program has been delivered by Active and Safe Routes to School Peterborough for five years. Shifting to active and sustainable transportation has numerous benefits for the health of our community and the environment.
Being active in the morning can have many positive impacts on the health of our bodies and minds, too. For instance, adding in a walk to school is one way to easily increase daily physical activity levels — we know our children need it!
Only 14% of children aged 5 to 11 meet Canadian activity targets of 60 minutes per day. Students can gain on average 10 to 40 minutes of activity each day by walking, biking, or riding their scooter to school. Studies also show that a walk to school can help prepare students for their day of learning, as morning activity increases focus and improves behaviour throughout the day.
Of course, due to schedules or distance, there will be a small percentage of families who have no alternative to the car. There is a new way for these families to build activity into the morning and participate in Car Free School Days: it’s called park and stride. Just park a few blocks from the school and then stride, or walk, the rest of the way.
Park and stride gives children a chance to meet up with friends and get some exercise before the school day begins. It also helps to reduce traffic congestion and emissions around the school, making for a healthier, safer school zone.
A little planning can go a long way if you are hoping to build in a walk to school, or to try out park and stride. Families can take a “test walk” this weekend in preparation for Winter Walk to School Day.
Set the timer and find out how long it takes to walk to school; take a look at a map and plot out a route that is fast, safe, and interesting; plan a trip that takes you past a creek or right by a friend’s house; is there a trail you can use for part of your journey, or a shortcut through a park?
Another way to plan ahead and cut down on morning stress is to keep outdoor gear in one handy location. That way there is no fear of having to hunt for mittens as precious morning minutes tick by. Share some tasks around to make sure everyone is ready for the weather; perhaps your five-year-old can look out the window to check the weather each morning and your eight-year-old can round up the umbrellas when it’s raining.
Lastly, add Car Free School Days to your calendar, so that you are reminded Tuesday evening and can be ready to go each Wednesday morning.
Teachers and principals in the city and county of Peterborough will soon receive new materials and incentives, along with the chance to become Peterborough’s first 100% Car Free School! This program is part of the new Healthy Kids Community Challenge, and is funded in part by the Province of Ontario.
For more information on Car Free School Days, Winter Walk to School Day, and park and stride, please contact Lindsay Stroud, Coordinator of Transportation and Urban Design Programs at GreenUP at 705-745-3238, or visit these websites: Winter Walk to School Day and Active and Safe Routes to School.
All photos courtesy of Lindsay Stroud of GreenUP.