Walking and bike-riding are healthy ways to get to and from school.
Skipping the school drop-off traffic for more active commutes can contribute to the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity kids need each day.
Trips powered by feet can help to reduce pollution, which can trigger breathing problems in children.
Walking can also help make neighbourhoods friendlier places.
Children usually aren’t ready to start walking to school without an adult until about fifth grade, or around age 10.
Younger children are more impulsive and less cautious around traffic, and they often don’t fully understand other potential dangers they could come across.
By walking with your children to and from school, you can help them learn the neighbourhood, teach them about traffic signs, street signs and directions, and model correct behaviours when crossing streets.
It’s also a great opportunity for some chat time with your kids.
Keep these tips in mind when walking with your young child to and from school:
- When crossing streets, hold your child’s hand and always observe the traffic safety laws.
- Observe all traffic signals and let the school crossing guard help you.
- Be sure to look all ways before crossing the street and continue to watch for vehicles.
Remind children that drivers may not always see them.
- Consider starting a walking “school bus” by inviting families in your neighbourhood to walk children to school together as a group.
The adults can take turns walking with the group, so make sure each child knows the adults in their walking group.
Each child is different, so consider their individual developmental and maturity level when deciding if it is safe for them to walk to school without an adult.
Some children may not have the skills to focus on safe pedestrian behaviour until they are 10 or even older.
For students walking to school without an adult, some points to consider:
- Make sure they stick to a safe route to school.
- If they need to cross any streets on the way to school, practice safe street crossing with them before the start of school.
- Ideally, they should walk with at least one neighbour child or older sibling.
- Make sure they know how to say “no” if someone they don’t know offers a ride, and that they should yell and run for help if needed.
- Explain to them that it is not safe to use a mobile phone or text while walking, which makes them less aware of traffic.
- Choose brightly-coloured backpacks, jackets and other accessories, ideally with reflective materials for days when it gets dark during daytime.
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Bike riding is also a great way to get to and from school, when children are ready for it.
Kids need to learn to be safe pedestrians before they can be safe bicyclists.
All bicycle riders should follow the basic rules of the road, which also apply to skateboards, scooters and other non-motorised vehicles:
- Ride on the right (left in Malaysia), in the same direction as the traffic, using bike lanes when available.
- Stop and look both ways before entering the street.
- Stop at all junctions, whether marked or unmarked.
- Respect traffic lights and stop signs.
- Before turning, use hand signals and look in every direction.
And remember, children should always wear a bicycle helmet, no matter how short the ride.
The helmet should be approved by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission and fit correctly. – By Dr Phyllis Agran/American Academy of Pediatrics/Tribune News Service
Dr Phyllis Agran serves on the executive committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention.