The long walk to school

You remember the days of the old school yard but do you remember how you got there? Chances are you walked to school, unless you were lucky enough to have a trusty pushbike to ride.

You certainly didn’t get driven in a comfortable, air-conditioned car with bum-warming seats to keep you cozy on the trip from home to the school gate. It’s just what you did – you walked to school.

I always love hearing my mum’s story of how she walked to school. It was four miles there and four miles back.

Mum, her two sisters, two brothers and the girl from the neighbouring farm would walk together and it would take an hour each way getting to and from a small country town primary school of just 14 students. Mum was just 5 years old. Friday was a good day because they’d get a ride to school with ‘the carrier’ – the truck driver who would be ferrying the local farmers’ goods into town to sell. The boys would get into the ‘dog box’ on the back of the truck and the girls in the front seat. After school, they’d walk back home.

And there were plenty of obstacles to getting to school – like prickly gorse hedges to traverse and the pesky frozen puddles on winter mornings. One morning on the walk to school mum slipped in a frozen puddle and cut her knee on the red gravel road. Unable to keep walking, her brothers came up a plan. They pulled a wooden panel off a nearby fence, put their younger sister on there and carried her the rest of the way to school. The teacher with her trusty enamel dish and Dettol bathed the knee and patched mum up enough so that she could walk back home from school that afternoon. What a fantastic story!

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So, how did we get to the point where we have to have a National Walk Safely to School Day in Australia? That’s today by the way.

The annual event, now in its 16th year, encourages primary school aged children to walk to and from school, not just today, but everyday. National Walk Safely to School Day raises awareness of the health, road safety, transport and environmental benefits that regular walking, especially to and from school can provide for the long-term health of our children.

Chairman and CEO of the Pedestrian Council of Australia, Harold Scruby said unless teachers, parents, carers and the community generally get behind the event and its objectives, the outlook for Australia’s children is not good.

“The childhood obesity epidemic has reached such critical levels in Australia, that 1 in 4 children are now overweight or obese. Unless there are significant changes to physical activity and diet, this is expected to reach 1 in 3 by 2020.

“Children require at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity – and regular walking is the best exercise for all of us”.

Our generation certainly knows why walking is the best exercise. We can also sympathise with the kids of today and why it’s not always possible to walk to school – concerns for our grandchildren’s personal welfare and safety are a high priority. At the same time though, there are ways around the problem, like getting kids to walk to school in groups.

On National Walk Safely to School Day, let’s take a trip down memory lane. Did you walk to school as a child? What’s your childhood memory of walking to school?