Keep the fun in back-to-school travel

September 6th, 2017

By Jaime Akiyama, GreenUP Transportation & Urban Design Programs Coordinator

The end of August is always a conflicting time. Families are switching into back-to-school planning mode, organizing indoor shoes and school supplies, scrubbing out lunch boxes, and helping to prepare little ones for new classes and teachers. There is the excitement of heading back to school, but there is also the feeling of not wanting to let go of the good times of summer.

Many families are trying to squeeze in just a little more outdoor summer fun. Sometimes we feel that with going back to school, summer activities must come to an end, but it doesn’t have to be that way; we can keep the fun activities going for trips to school.

Being active throughout the summer is great for kids’ health and well being (adults too), so keep it up by committing to being active when travelling to school. ParticipACTION’s 2015 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity found that only 9% of 5-17 years olds are getting the minimal 60 minutes for recommended physical activity. Walking, biking, or scooting to and from school can add needed activity into a student’s day.

Going back to school can be exciting but it can also be difficult for students to transition from the carefree days of summer to the demands for focus and concentration at school. Walking or biking and being active on the way to school can help students get some needed exercise and then settle in and concentrate in the classroom. A Danish study (2012) found that students 5-19 years of age performed measurably better on tasks demanding concentration, after walking or biking to school.

Children who ride a bus can also fit some activity and fun into their journey. Families can commit to walking or biking on the way to and from the bus stop. Students can be active and have fun by meeting up with friends and getting some fresh air while waiting for the bus.

Walking, biking, or busing to school is beneficial to students’ health beyond getting their needed physical activity; it can also have positive impacts on their air quality and safety. A study in the scientific journal, Atmospheric Environment, which focuses on looking at air pollution found that, “At times vehicle emission levels in school zones were similar to conditions that you would experience if you were standing within about 100 meters of the 401 during rush hour.” School zones are busy places during drop off and pick up times. Committing to walk, bike, or ride the bus will help decrease traffic congestion.

Some families may have great intentions to walk, bike, or bus to school but when the reality of the busy morning routine sets in, good intentions can go out the car window. A little planning can go a long way in moving from intention to action. Most families will have kids stocked up and ready to enter school on the first day, but have they planned how to travel to school on the first day? Are they ready for a new travel routine?

This last week of August is a great time to plan for travelling to school. While the weather is great and your family is eager to get out for walks or bike rides, why not check out the route to school? Grab a Peterborough & the Kawarthas Cycling & Trails Map, available at the GreenUP Store or at, and plan out a route that suits your family. You’ll want to consider your child’s age, ability, and the built environment of your neighbourhood.

One common barrier preventing families from walking, biking, or busing is that adults have time restraints and need to get to work. Test out the journey. You might be surprised that walking or biking doesn’t take up as much time as perceived, and its definitely more fun.

Time how long it takes for your practice walk or ride, and talk with your kids about how to navigate any tricky areas. Discuss how to be ready for all types of weather. The beautiful days of summer will help motivate your travel, but be prepared to embrace the upcoming cooler mornings and the fun, puddle-jumping rainy days of fall.

If you’d like some help making these plans or would like to meet some other families who are doing the same, join GreenUP and B!KE on Thursday, August 31st for Bike Night: Bike to School Route Planning. We can help you prepare with maps and tips! Register at

Once you are set, share your plans and commitments with your friends and neighbours. Maybe they’ll want to join you for the walk to school! Meeting up with friends adds to the fun, helps build a sense of community, and can decrease parents’ safety concerns if students are travelling without adults.

If driving is absolutely necessary, consider parking and striding; park away from the busy school zone and enjoy a walk for the last few blocks to and from school. Meet up with friends, get to know the surrounding community, and add some physical activity to your trip.

Active and Safe Routes to School promotes the use of active and sustainable transportation for the daily trip to school with the Car Free Wednesdays program. Schools are provided with promotional material and supports that motivate students to walk, bike, scoot, and roll to school. Schools that register and submit monthly travel surveys are eligible for prizes. Interested schools or parents can find out more information at

For more information and to register for Car Free Wednesdays, please contact Jaime Akiyama, Active and Safe Routes to School Coordinator at 705-745-3238 ext 210 or visit


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