Moms Columns & Blogs

Do kids walk to school anymore?

Last week was a bit of eye opener for me. My son had to make a graph of how children in his class got to school. In his class of 21 children, he was the only child who walked or biked to school. The other 20 took the bus or were dropped off by car.

Do any kids walk or bike to school anymore? I have seen my son’s school at the end of the day. Cars and buses snarl the road in front of the school as the kids are released in groups. But apparently walking to school has become a thing of the past. According to studies, only one in 10 children walks to school.

I grew up in Bethlehem, Pa., and walked (pretty far I might add) to school and my husband, who grew up in Emmaus, Pa., also walked (although he lived very close to the school.)

Now one mom tells me that some suburban schools bus everyone! She said even if you can see the front door of the school from your house your child still will ride the bus. And a co-worker told me he always sees parents driving their kids to the bus stop. Is it really that far?

What has happened? It is better for the environment and healthier for the child to walk. There will always be kids who simply live too far away from the school to walk but those who don’t take the bus supposedly live close enough to the school to walk. So why don’t they?

Lenore Skenazy who wrote the book “Free Range Kids” and is an advocate for allowing children more independence, wrote a great article for the Wall Street Journal. She is equally disconcerted by the disappearance of walking and notes the language at schools even has changed from “arrival” and “dismissal” to “drop-off” and “pick-up” to reflect the increase of vehicular transportation.

I love her description of a typical dismissal at school.

“When the bell finally rings, the first car races into the pick-up spot, and the car-line monitor barks into a walkie-talkie: “Devon’s mom is here. Devin is grabbed from the gym, escorted to the sidewalk and hustled into the car as if under enemy fire.”

And unfortunately I’ve seen this exact scene in practice.

Studies also show children who walk or bike may do better academically and are more alert at the start of school. I’d believe it. Nothing like a little fresh air to get your brain working.

Are parents so afraid of lurking predators that they are terrified to let children walk the couple blocks to school? Are they too busy to structure their mornings so children have the time to walk, and instead have to careen them to school at the last minute?

My son is proud that he rides his bike to school and it’s great exercise for him. And he’s energized and enthusiastic when he gets to school. Sure there’s always the chance that he could get hurt on his way to school. But I’ve taught him to be careful, and isn’t that what parenting is about anyway – teaching them and then giving them their wings.