My children are back at school today. It makes me feel guilty.
After a summer of walking and frolicking, suddenly I have to decant them into the car and ferry them around. I know I shouldn’t. But it is just too far for them to walk (especially for the 4-year-old). If we try, we end up late, angry and stopping at a newsagent for me to buy some sugary bribery. This is far from the best start to the day.
So this term, I am going to walk them part of the way. I’ll park in a really quiet street 500 metres from the school (there’s always a space) and whatever the weather, or our moods, I’m resolved to walk the rest of the way. I’ve managed one day so far.
As we walk, I gently notice things. I hope they will start to as well: trees, birds, plants. I want to start the day with a dose of nature and notice that nature changing. Where better than on the walk to school in autumn term?
We live in the middle of London, one of the busiest cities in the world. But I am lucky. Little patches of greenery surround my house and my children’s school has a green playground.
In contrast, just down the road, Gascoigne Primary in Barking is home to 1,200 students, and counting. The headmaster is a superhero. But he has been forced to build over much of the playground to fit the bulging intake. He has to stagger lunchtimes to squeeze in time and space for every child to eat and play outside.
Where is their green space – so vital, we’re told, to improving children’s concentration and behaviour?
If this is the schools of the future, then dosing children with wild time on the journey will become ever more important.
Looking back I feel so privileged to have my daily dose of nature from a solo cycle or walk to school. I’m going to have to chaperone my children for years – not because of stranger danger (a grossly exaggerated problem) but because of the real risk of traffic.
Nowadays, millions of children don’t get any wild time on their school journey. The number of children driven to primary school has risen fourfold to 34%. One public health official, concerned over rising obesity rates, called for a complete ban on dropping children from cars outside school gates.
Spending time noticing nature the slow way – by foot or bike – is good for kids. Living Streets, walking to school is guaranteed to make children fitter and healthier. Spending time in nature is shown to make them happier, whilst spotting wildlife and noticing changing plants and trees makes them more alert, more curious.
So this is my first step. A 500m daily nature trail. If you walk any way to school with your children this term, please share what you see.
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