Across the country, schools are encouraging families to forgo their cars to promote healthy habits, relieve traffic congestion around school buildings, help the environment and save money on gas.
Many schools reward kids who ditch mom or dad's car in favor of biking or walking. Prizes for walking or biking to school range from bottles of water to digital cameras, bike bells to bicycles. Many schools and community groups are funding the programs with grants from the national Safe Routes to School program, administered by the Federal Highway Administration. The FHA has funded programs in 40 states.
The FHA has worked with public schools and YMCA's to develop walk-to-school programs that appeal to parents and children. They have also helped to establish safe walking or biking routes and the funding of sidewalks.
Walking provides an opportunity to exercise and socialize before school, and it can have long-term impact on health. Students who exercise regularly are less likely to become obese or diabetic. And exercise in the morning can improve readiness to learn.
Students who live too far to walk or bike are asked to form car pools, use public transportation or walk part of the way. Many of the programs at various schools are "kid-generated." They are the ones asking their parents to leave early and walk or bike with them to school.
I think this is a great way to help our children (and their parents) to get more exercise each day while also helping to save money on gas and reduce auto emissions.
However, I find it difficult to understand why programs like this need to exist. When I was a child, I walked to school with friends every day. I also played school-yard games before classes began and again during PE, recess and after school. I stayed active throughout the day.
This shows how much things have changed in the last 20 or so years. More and more children are driven to school by their parents instead of walking or biking. We already know that kids today watch too much TV or spend too much time playing video games or surfing the internet. Parents should encourage their children to walk or bike to school to get more exercise (and parents should step up as role models and walk or bike with their kids).
With many public schools having to cut recess and PE classes from the daily curriculum, it's important that kids get more chances to exercise. Parents, teachers, coaches and other adults need to set an example for our children by getting more involved and becoming more active as role models.
Luckily, one organization is trying to make a change - the International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA). I will be getting one of my training certifications with the IYCA so I can effectively and properly teach children how to become more active and make exercise fun again - the way it should be!