The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

Get those children walking

Cross posted

Oh, the old “All those fat children should walk to school and get off my road” debate again… The Dominion Post has a front page article this morning: Why don’t children walk to school?” Apparently most children are driven to school, including 50% of those who live within 2km of their school, and only 35% walk or bike. This is a BAD THING.

The reasons for children not walking to school are to my mind, obvious. Time, and safety. If you are in paid employment as well as parenting, then time counts. Even twenty minutes walking your children to school is a huge impost in the mornings when you are racing to get to work. I’ve written about it before:

If it’s not the children who are at fault, it must surely be their parents. They are the ones who won’t take 20 minutes out of their mornings, or afternoons, to ensure that the children get to school safely, on foot. Never mind that many families need to have two income earners, just to pay the cost of housing and food. Two incomes means two jobs, and frantic mornings trying to get everyone cleaned, dressed, fed, lunches made and school bags packed, all while trying to ensure that both adults can get to work in reasonable order, and hopefully, on time. Twenty minutes may not sound like much time, but it is a huge chunk out of a busy morning. Yet somehow, the “children should walk to school” brigade think that parents can just dream this time up out of nowhere.

And let’s not forget that some parents are told very clearly that they ought to be working. sole parents are perhaps the busiest parents of all. And now here’s yet another thing that they ought somehow to be doing.

Then there’s safety. Getting across busy roads is a difficult task, even for adults. And it’s not just roads that are problematic: children are typically totally unaware of driveways, and cars reversing out. Yes, the driver of a reversing car is responsible for ensuring that she or he doesn’t run over any pedestrians, but that legal nicety is of little comfort when you are confronted with terribly injured children. There is a vicious circle here: driver awareness of pedestrians and cyclists would be better if there were more pedestrians and cyclists on the road, but the numbers are so low that at present it is simply dangerous to be out there, so the numbers of cyclists and pedestrians are decreasing, so awareness drops even lower and it gets more dangerous, so even less children walk and bike. The problem is well known.

Those points are obvious. But there are some other issues that might be raised. Children’s age makes an obvious difference. We live near one of the local highschools, and every morning, we see hordes of teenagers trudging along the nearby streets, and virtually no congestion outside the school gates. The article in the Dom Post notes that 70% of five year olds are driven to school, but only 42% of eleven and twelve year olds. My guess is that one critical factor in determining whether children are driven to school is the age of the youngest child in a family.

Second, parents are given competing directions about what to do with their children. On the one hand, we are told that we should make our children walk to school, but on the other, we are told that we are not allowed to leave our children unsupervised. So it’s okay to send your child out alone to walk to school, but it’s not okay to leave them at home alone.

Third, my guess is that many adults live within easy walking distance of their workplaces (the article seems to have two distances in mind: 2km for easy walking, and 5km for possible walking or riding), yet there is no pressure on them to leave their cars behind. Yet it would be just as easy for adults who don’t have responsibility for children to take the extra 20 minutes in their day to walk or bike to work. But as usual, it’s just so much easier to ladle blame and shame onto parents and children.

Disclosure:
My children walked to school in Adelaide, where we lived about 600m from the school, and the children could use a controlled crossing to get across a very busy arterial route.
We drive our children to school here in Greenhills, where we live about 3km from the school.

3 responses to “Get those children walking

  1. LadyNews September 28, 2011 at 10:30 am

    Also – and I’m just speculating here, as I don’t have children – perhaps the way people select schools to send their children to makes a difference? Purely anecdotal, but part of my job in the last few years involved working various primary schools in my city, and I remember being at one that is probably one of the most ‘desirable’ schools here, and the list of addresses for the children I was working with had incredible variation. Some kids were basically coming from the opposite side of the city, and there would be no possible way for those children to walk to school. Part of it was that the school is close-ish to the University and so many Uni staff try to send their children there but actually live further away, but I saw this kind of pattern at other schools too: children living quite far away from school; far enough that walking would just be a ridiculous task. So, I don’t know, maybe pressure to send your kids to a good school, or the best school, would affect the distance from home to school.

    • Jackie Clark September 28, 2011 at 11:58 am

      I think that is entirely possible. I know that many parents from Mangere – where I work – send their kids to schools in or near town, even at primary school level. When they get older, certainly, they take school buses, but those are often missed, or don’t turn up.

    • Isabel September 29, 2011 at 5:13 pm

      For us school choice is definitely the biggest factor. When the kids were at playcentre we always walked/biked/scooted the 30 minute trip but, as my oldest reached school-age, we had to choose between the school we could walk to and the one which was the best fit for him educationally and socially. It really wasn’t a tough decision.

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