Walking to School
By Karen Sokal-Gutierrez
Walking to school is a healthy tradition that we need to bring back. Whereas 30 years ago more than 66 percent of children walked or rode their bicycles to school, now only 13 percent do.

Walking to school is a wonderful opportunity for you and your children. If you walk with your child, it's a time for you to be together and talk, to get to know the neighborhood and natural surroundings, and to get much-needed exercise. If your child is old enough to walk with a sibling or friend, it's a great chance to socialize. If your child is old enough to walk alone, it can be a chance to be a little more independent and responsible, and to have time to think. Walking instead of driving to school also reduces traffic and air pollution.

In planning for your children to walk to school, it's important to pay attention to safety. The greatest danger is for children younger than 10 because they're less aware of their surroundings, they're more likely to dart out into the street and their small size makes them less visible to drivers. Nearly half of pedestrian injuries occur between 4 and 8 p.m.—after school and around dusk—when children are walking home and visibility may be limited.

Here are some safety tips for walking to school:

1. Plan a safe route and practice it together in advance: Before school starts, plan the most direct route to school with the fewest street crossings. If the school has an adult crossing guard to help the children at a busy intersection, instruct your children to cross with the guard. Walk the route several times with them until they know how to do it safely.

2. Teach your children the following pedestrian safety rules—and, when applicable, be sure to model these practices yourself:
  • Whenever possible, walk to school with a parent, sibling, neighbor or friend.
  • Walk on sidewalks, if available. If there are no sidewalks, walk on the far left-hand side of the road, facing oncoming traffic.
  • When walking on the sidewalk or street, beware of cars pulling out of driveways.
  • Cross the street safely:
    • Be sure that children younger than age 10 cross with an adult.
    • Always cross at the corner and in the crosswalks, if available. Do not cross in the middle of the block or between parked cars.
    • Follow the traffic signals, if available. Know the meaning of the signs for walk/don't walk, and the green/red lights.
    • Stop at the curb before crossing. Look left, right and left again to make sure no cars are coming. Cross when the traffic is clear, and continue to look left and right for cars while crossing.
  • Never accept rides from strangers, even if they say they'll give you candy or money, they need help finding a lost pet or that your parent told them to pick you up. (Have a secret password that someone needs to tell your children if you've asked them to be picked up.) If someone follows you or bothers you, scream for them to get away from you and run to the nearest house or store for help.

For more information on walking to school, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's KidsWalk-to-School website (www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/kidswalk/) and the National Center for Safe Routes to School website (www.saferoutesinfo.org).