Health & Fitness

Walk to School Day offers great safety opportunity for many kids

The fall festivals and Halloween are upon us, but have you considered how you will participate Oct. 5 in the 20th anniversary International Walk to School Day, an annual event that brings together families and community members to celebrate the benefits of walking.

Every year, in the three days leading up to International Walk to School Day, all public elementary school students in Miami-Dade County are taught the WalkSafe curriculum. The goal of this program, developed by the University of Miami Health System KiDZ Neuroscience Center, is to prevent children from being hit by cars and to teach students how to safely walk in their communities.

Walking is easily recognized as a form of physical activity, but it is often forgotten as a valuable method of transportation. For families living within a reasonable distance, walking to school can be a great alternative to the family car. In a time when life seems to be moving faster than ever, a walk outside may provide a much needed moment of mental and emotional rest for both you and your child.

Walk to School Day is an opportunity for parents and children to experience walking outdoors, and to reconsider how they choose to get to and from school every day. Joining with neighbors can help encourage walking in your community overall, as well as raise awareness about creating a safe walking environment for everyone.

Each year, thousands of schools across the country host a Walk to School Day event. There are a few simple steps you can follow if you’d like to participate this year, to help ensure you’ll have a successful Walk to School Day.

First, speak with your school’s principal about your interest in Walk to School Day, and get your school on board. Hosting a schoolwide event is a great way to bring many people together for the same mission. If your school will be hosting a Walk to School Day event this year, be sure to register at www.walkbiketoschool.org.

Once you have approval, it’s time to plan. A Walk to School Day event can take place in a number of ways. Families can be encouraged to walk from home and meet in groups, or you can choose a common location, such as a park or community center, for students to meet and walk to school together. A third option can be to incorporate your Walk to School Day event into the school day. Students, teachers and parents can walk around the school perimeter or track together. Ultimately, your Walk to School Day event should be best suited for your school community, and you can be creative in planning your walk.

Invite everyone. Invite parents, teachers, local law enforcement, school board members, government officials and other community members to join in your event with you. Working toward a healthy and safe environment requires a group effort, and everyone should be involved.

You’re just about ready to walk, but before you do here are three things to remember:

▪ Safety first. Review key safety concepts with your child. Before crossing the street, come to a complete stop at the curb and look left, then right, then left again. Cross only when it is safe, and be sure to use a crosswalk. Don’t forget to discuss the importance of paying attention to traffic signs and signals, and always obey crossing guards.

▪ Have the right gear. For an enjoyable walk, you’ll want to wear comfortable shoes with laces tied securely. Make sure a backpack is worn properly, and isn’t too heavy for your child. Wear bright colored clothing or reflective items to help make yourselves more visible to drivers. Finally, bring a water bottle and stay hydrated during your walk.

▪ Choose a route beforehand. Mapping out your route will allow you to avoid busy intersections if possible, and choose the most pedestrian-friendly path. You’ll want to favor locations with sidewalks, crosswalks, pedestrian crossing signals and crossing guards.

Finally, it’s time for your walk. Remember to follow all pedestrian safety guidelines and be the leading example for your child. Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun. Make the most of your time together, and pay attention to the things you don’t get to experience while riding in a car.

Whether you and your child have never walked to school, or walk every day, Walk to School Day is a chance to bring the community together to celebrate the joy of walking. This October, why not choose something new and celebrate Walk to School Day? For more information about Walk to School Day and pedestrian safety, visit www.walksafe.us.

Gillian Hotz, Ph.D., is the director of the KiDZ Neuroscience Center at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.

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