Hale March 18 Masthead

Preparing your child to walk or ride to school safely

Laura Peppas

When I was in primary school, there was nothing more exhilarating than hopping on my bike and making the journey to school on my own.

It was the first time I’d travelled independently, and I can still remember swelling with pride as I pedalled through the school gates.

Today, active travel to school rates are  in decline, despite Canberra’s excellent cycling and walking infrastructure.

Yet experts say walking or riding to school is not only an easy way to boost your child’s activity, it can help improve their social skills, road safety knowledge and self-confidence. There’s also the added benefit to our environment, as walking or riding reduces traffic congestion around schools, related noise and air pollution.

ACT Health work in partnership with the Physical Activity Foundation to run the Ride or Walk to School program in schools around Canberra. Program manager at the Physical Activity Foundation Emma Tattam says research has shown children who ride or walk to school arrive more alert and ready to learn.

“Walking or riding to school with your children is also a great way to get to know your local neighbourhood and meet others in your community,” Emma says.

“Plus it’s a great time to chat to your kids without any distractions.”

School bag 123

Image: Shutterstock

To prepare children for the journey, Emma recommends taking some time to explore the possible walking and riding routes to and from school.

“Ask yourself which is the safest route? Is there an alternative route that uses an underpass rather than crossing a road? If you are crossing a road use a crossing or traffic lights – even if you need to travel a bit further.  You may like to use Google Maps to plan some routes you might like to try,” Emma says.

“If it’s too far from your home to school, find a ‘part way’ drop off point. This might be a place where you can park the car and walk in together, or your child could walk or ride in on their own.”

For busy households, Emma recommends working out a schedule together to incorporate riding or walking to school.

“It doesn’t need to be every day. You can start small and initially try for once or twice a week,” she says.

“Many children have after school activities where they need to be picked up after school so why not try a one way journey? You can walk, or a scooter or skateboard can easily be put in the boot of your car. Think about using the ‘part way’ drop off points on these days.”

Emma says it’s also important to remember that some children will be ready to travel independently before others.

“Some children start walking or riding alone from Year 3 however most children will be ready between Years 4 and 5,” she says.

“If they don’t walk or ride by Year 6, this is a good time to encourage them to do so to prepare them for being more independent when they go to high school. Don’t forget children can meet friends along the way; they don’t have to walk alone.

“Everyone is busy and it’s easy to think you just don’t have enough time to ride or walk. But if your kids are travelling on their own it will ultimately save you time. You’ll avoid the traffic congestion around school, and you can leave for work a bit earlier once your children are on their way and avoid some of Canberra’s peak hour traffic.”

More tips for preparing your children to ride or walk to school:

  • If your child is planning on riding, check over their bike to make sure it’s safe. Have they got a helmet that fits properly?
  • Spend some time together and cover some basic bike maintenance tips. Go and visit your local bike shop to ask for advice.
  • Prepare a plan for what your children can do if something happens on the way to school. Will they call someone for help (if they have a mobile phone) or will they lock their bike up somewhere and walk the rest of the way to school?
  • Have a conversation about travelling safely. Be careful around driveways and watch out for reversing cars; stop, look and listen before you cross the road; use crossings where available and always check for cars as they may not always stop; don’t speak to people you don’t know; call 000 in an emergency. For more safety tips visit the Constable Kenny website constablekenny.org.au
  • Talk to other parents in your community to see if your children could travel to school together, or perhaps see if the adults could take turns to travel with children.

For more useful tips to help your family move more, visit ACT Health’s Good Habits for Life website or check out paf.org.au.

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Laura Peppas

Laura Peppas is HerCanberra's senior journalist and communications manager and is the Editor of Unveiled, HerCanberra's wedding magazine. She is enjoying uncovering all that Canberra has to offer, meeting some intriguing locals and working with a pretty awesome bunch of women. Laura has lived in Canberra for most of her life and when she's not writing fervently she enjoys pursuing her passion for travel, reading, online shopping and chai tea. More about the Author

  • BackyardChook

    Some schools don’t routinely inform parents if their child is marked
    absent. So, if your child gets lost walking to school, or hops off the
    bus at the wrong stop, or doesn’t make roll call for any reason, the
    school may not call you to let you know they haven’t arrived.
    Chapman PS just outlined their policy in their most recent newsletter –
    they don’t contact parents if a child is marked absent. Best to contact
    your school when deciding whether
    or not to let your child get to school unaccompanied.

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