By Ethan Hipple
Piles of fall leaves, crisp autumn air, seeing friends after a summer
apart: Many parents have fond memories of walking or biking to their
neighborhood schools. Back in 1969, more than 50 percent of all kids got
to school on foot or by bike. Compare that to 2009 and beyond, when
less than 13 percent of kids used either method, according to the
organization Safe Routes to School.
yet, this old-fashioned practice is enjoying a modern revival across
the country, with all kinds of positive—and trackable—implications.
Learning and cognition. A 2012 study
of 20,000 Dutch children found those who biked or walked to school
performed measurably better on tasks requiring concentration—an
improvement that lasted four hours. Walking or biking to school ranks up
there with getting a good breakfast or a solid night’s sleep.
Connection to nature.
Common sense tells us that walking provides a more intimate
relationship to our surroundings than driving, and research confirms it.
A recent study by Bruce Appleyard of San Diego State University shows
that kids who bike or walk have a better sense of place and geography
than those who get around by car or bus. He found that kids who are
driven to school often don’t know where they are, leading to anxiety and
unwillingness to venture out on their own.
Social impact. Traffic
makes us lonely. Anyone with a long commute knows it, but decades of
research tells us that neighborhoods with lighter traffic encourage a
sense of home and belonging. Donald Appleyard, Bruce’s father and the
author of the 1982 book Livable Streets, published research indicating
that residents in low-traffic areas have two more neighborhood friends
and twice as many acquaintances than those in high-traffic areas.
Confidence and satisfaction.
Exercise releases dopamine and serotonin, natural compounds in our
bodies that trigger feelings of pleasure and well-being. Put simply,
exercise makes us happy, and a degree of independence makes us more
resilient and self-reliant. Maybe this is why Grandpa has such fond
memories of walking 5 miles through the snow, uphill both ways.
TRY IT YOURSELF
best way is the easiest: Walk or bike to school with your kids. After a
few dry runs, they might be ready to go it alone. For kids younger than
8 or 9, try a “walking school bus”: a group that walks together, often
with an adult chaperone. Need a push? Consult the following resources.
Walk and Bike to School Day. Find or set up an activity in your area for this annual October event at walkbiketoschool.org.
National Bike and Walk Day.
Check with your school or parks department for group rides or walks
affiliated with this May event. In the New Hampshire town where I live,
600 school kids and commuters participate—one out of every 10 people. If
there isn’t an event near you, set one up at bikeleague.org.
Safe Routes to School. This group provides advice, plus technical assistance and grants for creating sidewalks and bike paths. Read more at saferoutespartnership.org.
• Get more kid-friendly ideas at greatkids.outdoors.org and join AMC’s community for families at kids.outdoors.org.
• For more bike tips, check out East Coasting and Fixing a Flat.
• Ready to take your pint-size pedalers on a longer haul? Don't miss Bike Camping for Beginners.
This story originally appeared in the September/October 2015 issue of AMC Outdoors. You can find more tips on raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts here, in the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog, and share your own ideas in AMC’s online community for families, Kids Outdoors. Photo: Anne & Tim on Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0