Kids in America are walking to school in far fewer numbers than decades ago. One study finds that walking to school decreased by 50% between 1965 and 1990. According to another study by the Centers for Disease Control, in 1972, 87 percent of children who lived within a mile of school walked or biked daily; today, just 13 percent of children get to school under their own power.
When I was a kid, we lived over a mile away from school, we had to cross a major street to get to school, and most kids had one non-working parent (usually a mom) who had a car and could easily drive us. Nonetheless, we walked every day.I believe that this huge dropoff in walking to school has many negative consequences for kids:
- increased dependence on adults
- fewer opportunities for spontaneous play (walking home often leads to kid-led play opportunities)
- lower levels of physical fitness
- reduced geographic knowledge (directions, roads)
- less neighborhood knowledge (people and places)
I believe this worrying trend is due to the following reasons:
- parents’ fear of child predators
- parents’ fear of pedestrian automobile accidents
- tight afterschool schedules due to organized activities
- increased popularity of non-neighborhood schools (magnet schools and private schools)
In an article entitled Is Driving Your Kids Around Safer than Letting Them Roam Outside On Their Own?, I present statistics that soundly refute the fear represented by 1) and 2) that driving kids to and from school is safer than letting them walk.
As for 3) and 4), I would argue that parents have come to discount the value of the time kids spend in their neighborhoods. Certainly, there are situations where it makes sense for a kid to be driven to an afterschool event or sent to a school across town, but parents should make these decisions cognizant of the cost to the child.
Fortunately, there is a national movement to increase walking to school called Safe Routes to School. This organization is an umbrella group for state organizations, and these state organizations get involved in local school districts to make practical changes so more kids can walk to school. For instance, sidewalks are being improved, children are receiving donated bright clothing, crossing guards are getting funding, and “Walking School Buses” led by a parent each day are being organized.
What do you think? Can we get as many kids walking to school as there were when we were kids? Should we?