Why is physical activity important for children?
Regular physical activity helps:
- Build strong bones and muscles.
- Strengthen the heart.
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
- Improve fitness.
- Increase self esteem.
Walking to and from school, or at school, is a great way for children to get active and an Active & Safe Routes to School program supports this.
What is Active and Safe Routes to School (ASRTS)?
ASRTS started in Canada in the 1990s. The goal is to encourage children and parents to use active transportation like walking or biking, when going to and from school, or at school. (This website and our pilot project, discussed later, focuses on walking only).
ASRTS promotes safe routes, so children and youth can be more active before, during, and after school. To encourage walking, the ASRTS program helps address needed supports such as sidewalks, crosswalks, and signage.
Why is ASRTS important?
- ASRTS gets children active and builds physical activity into their day.
- Parents can teach children pedestrian safety rules while walking. Children can practice these skills with an adult present. This helps prepare children for independent walking as they get older.
- Children who walk to school appear to be more alert, so they are ready to learn. In a survey conducted in the United Kingdom, “9 out of 10 teachers consider that the walk to school actually makes children brighter, more alert and ready for the first class of the day” (Green Communities, 2004, 16).
- If more children walked, fewer cars would be on the road and around the school. This change can make it safer for students traveling to and from school. It can also help reduce air pollution.
- Children can make new friends, enjoy time with family, and get to know their neighbourhood by walking.
ASRTS has many looks. Schools can use one or a number of the following programs:
- International Walk To School Day (IWALK)
IWALK takes place once a year in October. The goal of IWALK is to increase the number of students who walk to and from school on a specific day. For more information about IWALK go to www.iwalktoschool.org
- Walking School Bus
Students who live in the same neighbourhood walk to and from school together. A volunteer, such as a parent, walks with students. Volunteers can take turns on different days of the week.
- Moving Mondays, Touring Tuesdays, Walking Wednesdays, Trekking Thursdays, Phys. Ed. Fridays
The goal is to pick a day per month or per week as a “Walk to School Day”. On this day, students are encouraged to walk. Schools can use the names above or come up with their own names.
Even children who are bused to school can build walking into their school day.
Try these ideas:
Walking Challenge or Kilometre Club
At lunch, recess, or before classes start, students and teachers walk around the school yard. The gym or hallways can be used on bad weather days. Students can measure the distance of their walking area so they can track how far they’ve walked or how many times they need to walk around the area to complete one km or one mile.
Walk Across Canada Challenge
The aim is for students, teachers, and parents to track the number of footsteps over a certain time period. Students virtually travel from one end of the country to the other. A map is used to track the school’s progress. Go to www.wechealthunit.org and enter Walk Across Canada Teaching Kit in the search box to look at this resource.
For more information on ASRTS walking programs, check out the Active Safe Routes to School website www.saferoutestoschool.ca
Active and Safe Routes to School pilot project in Windsor-Essex County
An ASRTS Coalition was formed in January 2008. Coalition members include representation from the following agencies:
- Conseil scolaire de district des écoles catholiques du Sud-Ouest
- Conseil scolaire de district du Centre Sud-Ouest
- City of Windsor
- Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA)
- Heart and Stroke Foundation
- Greater Essex County District School Board
- New Beginnings
- Teen Health Centre
- Sandwich Community Health Centre
- Municipality of Amherstburg
- Municipality of Essex
- Municipality of Kingsville
- Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board
- Windsor-Essex County Health Unit
The pilot project was funded for two years by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, through a Community Action grant. Funding ended December 2009.
The ASRTS coalition’s goal is to increase physical activity among elementary school students. The coalition works with schools and parents to:
- Identify barriers that prevent walking to and from school.
- Work with decision makers (i.e. municipal councillors, school boards and/or school personnel) to address the supports needed for students to walk safely to and from school. Supports may include sidewalks, signage, crossing guards, crosswalks, traffic signs, and supervision.
During 2008/09, the ASRTS coalition held community forums at 8 pilot site elementary schools:
- Holy Name Catholic School
- Princess Elizabeth Public School
- Forest Glade Public School
- Hugh Beaton Public School
- Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School
- St John de Brebeuf Catholic School
- École L'Envolée
- École St Jean Baptiste.
The purpose of these community forums was to discuss with parents and school members how ASRTS could be implemented in their schools.