What can we do instead of driving our children to and from school?
We could teach our children how to walk, run or ride to and from school. This is what Australians did in the good old days when the percentage of overweight people in our population was very low. It is also what people are doing in underdeveloped countries where the percentage of overweight people in their population is still very low, since not many people in these countries can afford cars (aren’t they lucky!). If we are worried about any creeps out there, then we could join our children on the journey to and from school. ie, walk, run or ride with them. If you feel that you don’t have enough time because of work commitments, try to coordinate a roster/system amongst your neighbours for adults to accompany the children to school. Some schools or local communities have been proactive in encouraging using our bodies for school trips. For instance, some schools use what they call a “walking train”. They have several routes where a parent starts on the route and picks up children along the way to school.
People often quote “time” as a major factor in having to drive their kids places. When you consider the time it takes to get your kids in the car, driving time (where average driving speeds often be as slow as 10km/h in peak hour traffic), time to find a park or to wait in a drop off zone, etc, driving may not be as fast as you think.
Many primary children live within 4km of their school, particularly primary school children. 4km is an achievable distance for children to walk run or ride. If you feel that 8km return (ie 4km to school and 4km from school) is too much, then arrange to drop of or pick up your child, or arrange them to travel by public transport. Even walks, runs and rides to travel to bus stops and train stations can help clock up the exercise kms and in many cases actually save in travelling time.
If your child lives more than 4km from their school, particularly a primary school, then I recommend that you look for a school that’s closer to home unless your child has special needs. Some children live in more remote parts of cities or in the bush. I suggest that you try to work out a way for your child to walk, run or ride to the bus stop or train station The proportion of children living within a 2km radius of school that are being driven to school is increasing every year. Is it just a coincidence that the proportion of overweight and obese children is increasing at a similar rate?
If the 4km journey feels like it’s too tough to walk, run or ride in the initial stages, shorten it by driving 3km to school and walking, running or riding the final 1km to school. Gradually build up the distance that your children travel to school on their own. Eventually, they will be able to cover the entire distance on their own. This gradual adaptation would be particularly helpful for children/parents who are already overweight or obese.
If you have a fear of your child being unsafe walking, running or riding to school, you may like to start a WALK TO SCHOOL group. You could organize supervising adults or even older teenagers (could be some good pocket money for them!). I’m sure that there would be many retired people who would love to become a supervising adult with one of these schemes What a fantastic way to keep healthy, help the community and mix with youngsters! Walk to school groups could take set routes, like bus routes although more direct than bus routes. There could be walking “pick-up” stations, like bus stops. You could negotiate with your local council to have these erected in your local area. Councils could even help to arrange and print timetables for the walking groups.
Many children in poorer third world countries, for example, in Ethiopia and Kenya, travel distances on foot of up to 10km each way to school. They invariably run because it’s faster than walking. Use this fact to inspire you.
I am a running coach and you may ask what I have written has to do with running and performance. Very simple, the best distance running nations in the world are still Ethiopia and Kenya. It is wise to not only look at what their top performing senior runners are doing in training. It is wise to see how the nations use their bodies for transportation in general. It is very obvious that those living in the highland regions where the top runners are born and bred have become very used to copious amounts of walking and running since the day they can walk. They exercise a lot as part of their daily schedule. They do not however see it as “exercise” as we in western societies see walking and running. They simply see it as the norm for transportation and daily life. Thus running as a sport, right up to the most elite level possible, is something that almost all of them have done a lot of since being little children. It is a case of “the more you do of something, the better you become”.
It was no coincidence that Australia and New Zealand dominated global distance running just before the “car era” or “car boom” really took off. In the 1950s and 1960s Australia and New Zealand were on top of the world. The number of world leading runners in middle and long distances from this relatively sparsely populated part of the planet was amazing. Herb Elliot. John Landy, Ron Clarke, Merv Lincoln, Trevor Vincent, Les Perry, Allan Lawrence, Albie Thomas, Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, John Davies, Ralph Doubell, Derek Clayton, Dave Power, Bill Baillie, Tony Cook and Tony Manning.
Down Under athletes kept it rolling into the 70s and early 80s to a lesser extent, but there is still a mighty list of runners who were right up there with the best in the world. Names such as Tony Benson, Dick Quax, Graham Crouch, Rod Dixon, Anne Audain, Robert De Castella, John Walker and Alison Roe could match it with the best of them. This is a long list of runners who were either number 1 in the world or close to it. Most of these champion runners grew up in a more “Kenyan-like” environment; not only in terms of transportation but also in terms of nutrition, spirituality and mentality.
However by the 1990s cars and technology had it’s ugly grip on Down Under and even though we have had plenty of amazing runners, our status of being number 1 has vanished nearly half a century ago. The incredible Craig Mottram was an anomaly, getting very close to the top of the world. Ask Mottram what he was logging each week on the bike, in the pool and running as a kid however, and you will be amazed.
Yes I know many of you reading this are very time poor and some ideas I presented may seem near impossible, but I hope it gives you some food for thought.