Exercise your right to walk kids to school

Four of us sat by the pool in the fading light of summer. Nearby, the lifeguard collected toys from the neighborhood kids, folded up chairs and got ready to close up. Sadness hung in the air.

This year, the start of school overtook summer like a smothering fog rolling onto shore. Our chore that night was to find our way through the haze. We had to plan the carpool.

Getting a good carpool requires a few things:

  1. Reliability. No latecomers. The boys can tie their shoes on the way.
  2. Health. I appreciate families who appreciate vaccinations. Germs spread easily in compact cars.
  3. Balance: We need early risers for delivery and someone willing to break away at 2:45 for pickup.
  4. Additional, but less important factors are car size, musical instrument of choice and overall flakiness. Will they cancel at the last minute? Will a parent run errands on the way home from school? Will a family constantly ask to alter the schedule?

Our carpool has five kids in four families. Because two of the five boys are mine, I volunteered for four shifts. Everyone else gets two. The only objection came from my husband, who actually does all our driving.

The absurdity of this is that we live 1.52 miles from the school. Why are we carpooling at all? These are healthy, active middle school boys. Each of these boys competes in sports. One even runs cross country! Unfortunately, they aren’t alone in the aversion to walking.

Each year fewer children walk to school. According to the Safe Routes to School organization, in 1969, 48 percent of children 5 to 14 walked or biked to school. In 2009, that dropped to 13 percent. This is occurring as obesity rates are rising.

Parents choose carpools for a number of reasons. Schools have larger attendance areas now, so kids are farther from school. High volumes of traffic pose dangers. The irony there is that as more students arrive to school in cars, more parents believe traffic is too heavy to allow their child to walk or bike safely. Then there are concerns over crime, weather and weird school policies. Most these can be overcome with planning, parental supervision and mittens.

There are plenty of reasons to walk with the main one being obesity. In Colorado, one-fifth of the state meets the definition for being obese. Nationwide, obesity affects 17 percent of all children which is three times as high as it was a generation ago. We can fight obesity with exercise.

“It is recommended that kids get an hour of exercise a day, including playtime outside, walking, riding bikes and in general playing,” said Banner Health’s Phillip Rhoads, MD, an internal medicine/pediatric specialist.

Dr. Rhoads said he thinks a child should be at least 10 to 12 years old to walk to school, but it really depends on how mature that child is and how far the walk is. Also, will they walk alone or in a group?

Before sending your child off on that walk, he recommends a few other things. “I would think above 25 degrees is still OK to walk to school, but that depends on the wind. If it’s very windy, colder temperatures are more dangerous.”

I’d like to suggest that my carpool adopt Walking on Wednesday, but I’m nervous. Right now we leave the neighborhood at 7:05 a.m. for kids to be in their seats by 7:25 a.m. We could leave 10 minutes earlier, walk a 15-minute mile pace and have them entering the school by 7:12. That’s plenty of room for error. I’ll even walk with them.

But what if they make fun of me? What if no one will go with me? What if they kick me out of the carpool? Being in the middle of a school year with no carpool is like standing up when the music ends in a game of musical chairs. You’re out! Oh, the horrors of middle school.

Wish me luck!

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