Readers — Walking to school is a lovely, age-old, generally safe activity that has been almost abandoned over the last generation. Today, only about one child in 1o still walks to school, in part because some new schools have been built on the outskirts of town, in part because some neighborhoods are so car-centric there is no decent on-foot route to school, but also in great part because parents have been warned every which way that their kids are never safe doing anything outside on their own. (See my last million posts.)
Enter Michelle Obama, who dearly wishes kids would start moving again. Recently, she endorsed the idea of the “Walking School Bus,” which is a bunch of kids walking together, picking up kids along the way (like a bus), along with an adult chaperon.
The idea of kids walking is wonderful, of course. But the idea that this is such a dangerous activity that it requires ongoing chaperoning is troubling. I’m sure Michelle couldn’t come out and endorse kids just walking on their own, because in some neighborhoods that’s truly dangerous and she is First Lady for the whole country.
Getting Kids Moving?
However, in promoting the idea that even a group of kids walking together needs an adult, she inadvertently perpetuates the problem of kids not moving. Here’s what the Walking School Bus site says about adult oversight:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend one adult for every six children. If children are age 10 or older, fewer adults may be needed. If children are ages 4 to 6, one adult per three children is recommended.
Really — even a group of 10 year olds needs an adult with them? That’s your problem right there. And the 1:3 ratio for younger kids makes walking to school sound like signing your kid up for scuba lessons.
We are turning walking to school into an adult-intensive project.
If parents are told kids can only be “safe” outside with a guardian watching over them, what are the chances that they will send their kids outside after school to the play? They won’t. Kids will end up inside. No parent has hours and hours after school — and whole days free on weekends — to stand outside and supervise.
Just the other night I went walking in our apartment building’s courtyard and spied a little girl going round and round on her scooter.
Well, actually I spied her go round and round twice. Then it was time to go in. Her dad, who was watching her (despite no public access to the courtyard and no cars) was ready to go inside. He was done watching, so she was done scootering.
Hands down, a walking school bus beats a parade of cars dropping the kids off at school. I’m glad Michelle brought that issue to national attention and props to her. But will it get kids back to moving, as in running, jumping and playing any other time of day?
Alas, no. – L.
Picture from walkingschoolbus.org