Looking through the various resources online for Walk to School Week there was a heading that fits wonderfully with the way we work at The Youth Fairy.
SMALL STEPS: BIG CHANGE
When we have a significant change we want to make, it can seem too big and too difficult to make that change all in one go. But when we break it down into small steps, we can then make progress towards the bigger goal in smaller, more manageable steps.
That’s the ethos behind the National Walk to School Week – make some small changes during this week to walk to school more in the hope that they will continue to be successfully implemented and continued once the week’s challenge is finished.
There are many benefits to getting outside and having exercise, it’s good for both our physical and our mental health. This time of year is a great time to start a walking habit, we are more often waking up to dry, sunny days and are much more inclined to want to be outside. Unless you are like Youth Fairy, Sian, whose favourite walking weather is wind and rain!
Did you know that the 15 minute walk or cycle to and from school (this is the average time it takes children to walk to school) is half the daily recommended exercise intake? And for the adults surely that means, by the end of a day and two school runs, we have all our daily exercise intake completed?!
According to government statistics the national average for children who walk to school is now 46%. There are reasons for this generational decline and many of us have the morning challenge of getting everyone out of the house not only in time for school but also in time for us to start our work day. The days that you get to walk to school – do you notice any difference?
Youth Fairy, Lisa, shares “I have an 8-year-old, she’s quite independent but the morning is full of reminders “have you cleaned your teeth?” “please clean your teeth” “have you cleaned your teeth yet?!”. It sometimes feels like the morning is a rush and quite stressful, but it’s less so on the mornings we walk to school. If we’re walking to school, I notice that I feel less rushed. These are the mornings that we have more time (that’s why we get to walk). We often meet with a friend, we talk, we notice nature together and we arrive at school much calmer.”
Essex University conducted a study and noticed that children who walk to school arrive brighter and more alert.
What is it that walking to school gives our children, that enables them to arrive at school “brighter and more alert”?
The Benefits of Walking to School:
- Time with friends – Walking to school often gives children a chance to walk with friends and the opportunity to talk and have positive interactions. We know that positive interactions increases our serotonin (one of the feel good chemicals, that we so often talk about). Increasing serotonin allows our children to reach school feeling happier (“brighter and more alert”).
- Change of focus – there is an opportunity to notice the good things about the day, notice new blossom, leaves, birdsong. This can be extremely helpful if your child has any school anxiety. Getting dressed and ready for school in the morning often has the focus on “getting to school”, sometimes the very place they don’t want to be. Walking to school gives the opportunity to focus on something else and to notice nature. New research shows that connectedness to nature (noticing nature and not just walking outside) has additional benefits to our mental health.
- Increased levels of activity Walking to school is likely to make our children more active (and us too) – research shows that children who walk to school are more likely to be more active. In a world where technology is often competing for more of our children’s time, we have the opportunity to encourage and support more outdoor activity and exercise. Along with serotonin, exercise increases our endorphins (another of the feel good chemicals) and we feel more motivated and happier when we exercise.
This brings us back to this year’s focus of Small Steps: Big Change. What small step are you going to take towards big change?
Small Steps this National Walk to School Week:
- Increase the number of times you walk to or from school. If you don’t already walk to school, what one change could you make this week to make this possible?
- Walk with friends – is there a friend (and parent) that your child could walk to school with.
- Change routine – could you make a small change to your routine that would enable you to walk to school or part of the way to school.
- Engage with nature
- Set a challenge to notice 5 new things in nature on the way to school
- Start the conversation about something you’re enjoying about your walk to school – you can change the focus of the morning.
- Mornings can be challenging – consider what change works for you, make it small (you can always increase it when you see the benefits) and then enjoy it.
- And if you can’t walk to school, that’s ok too – perhaps you could find another time in the early evening or at the weekend where you can get out in nature and enjoy a walk together.
Walking to school, walking with friends, having fun and being outside is a great way to increase serotonin and help our children to increase their feelings of happiness (and to be “brighter and more alert”).
What change are you going to make this week? We’d love to hear any changes you’ve made this week, what benefit’s you’ve notice AND when these SMALL STEPS lead to BIG CHANGE.