School has just started in many parts of the western world.
Since my kids joined the Swiss public school system last year, they’ve been walking to school on their own. School is just a 5-minute walk from our home but I know of kids who have to walk for 15 minutes or longer. For those who live beyond the 20-minute walking time, school bus service is usually provided. This is more or less the same all over Switzerland.
Many expats, including me, have difficulty at first in coming to terms with this system. In many countries, the way to school is full of hazards and dangers. Abduction and traffic accidents are just a few of them. We are appalled that kids are expected to walk to school at age 6 or 7 when they start the 1st grade. But they have been prepared for this. Swiss kids are instructed by a traffic police officer during their kindergarten years on how to walk on and cross the street. Parents are expected to do their share and give instructions as well as set a good example. Schools make it difficult for parents to drop off and pick up kids by providing no parking or drop off zone close by.
But why should kids walk to school? There are several benefits to walking to school that the Swiss system believes, outweighs the risk.
Physical movement. Walking is not exercise but it is nevertheless a physical activity that is much better than simply just sitting in a car. With kids becoming more sedentary and overweight these days, walking is more important than ever in getting them move.
Self-sufficiency. By learning to walk to school by themselves, kids learn to be self-sufficient and be responsible. At an early age, they are trained to stay safe and avoid risks, training which will help them avoid risky behaviour as they grow.
Real life. The way between home and school is the real world where kids learn about life. Sometimes the lessons may be hard. My kids experienced bullying on the way to school. This made them strong.
Getting rid of stress. For some kids, school is full of pressure and stress. A study by researchers at the University at Buffalo in New York report that the walk to and from school actually can take some of school-related stress off. In a test of kids age 10 to 14 years old, those who walked showed relatively less stress during an exam than those who did not. According to researcher James Roemmich:
Of course walking to school is not possible in many places for reasons of security and distance. I am, however, very grateful to live in a country where walking is possible, even part of the culture. My kids think the same. My suggestion of driving them to school on a rainy day was met with strong opposition.
“You are not supposed to do that, Mom.”