A friend and I were doing our usual morning exercise - flapping our gums as well as our shoes. A brisk 40 minute morning walk down nearby country roads was our normal route, with wide-ranging conversation as a bonus kickstart for the day.
A car zipped past. I casually noticed a school uniform in the passenger seat. About two minutes later the same car returned, now just carrying Mum.
As we turned out of the short 'No Exit' road we'd been walking on another car pulled up, disgorged a couple of pre-teens at the bus stop, backed around and also went back home
Nothing unusual in this, you'd say? No, and that's the point. It's such a common occurrence in both town and country that most of us never even think about it.
Let me paint the scene a little more.
The cars had come from two short 'No Exit' country roads to the junction with the main road, a pick-up point for the school bus. Neither of these roads have much traffic, one has a footpath some of the way and both have clear visibility and plenty of space to safely walk. It's a very quiet rural and small-holding country setting - safety is not an issue.
Let's step away from kids going to school for a moment and think a bit wider.
Do any of these issues concern you?:
• The increase in children as well as adults suffering from obesity-related disease.
• Young people who don't take responsibility.
• Young people with limited commonsense and resilience for anything outside their protected normal environment.
• Too much to do and a feeling that there's never enough time.
• The increasingly frenetic pace of life.
• People who expect to be entertained rather than making their own fun.
• The price of fuel.
• Pollution of our environment.
• Congestion on the roads, especially during school and university terms.
My real question is - why do parents think they do their kids a favour by driving them everywhere?
Think about the list above. If children had to get out of bed a bit earlier, stretch their legs and walk down the road to the nearest bus, or get on a bike, or walk to school; if they had to suffer the consequences of dawdling, of missing the bus, what would the results be?
• Would it give the kids exercise?
• Would it be good for their health?
• If parents said, 'Out the door' instead of dropping their work to run them down the road, would it save that busy parent a little bit of time in every day?
• Would it save fuel and vehicle expenses?
• Would it save a little bit of pollution?
... and we could go on. I'm sure you get the picture.
Benefits of kids getting themselves to school by walking or biking:
• As they kick down the road to school or bus they become more aware of their environment. They'll see things in gardens and roadsides (and paddocks if they're country children).
• Children are naturally curious - it gives them the chance to explore instead of stunting their curiosity with man-made limitations.
• They have to refine social skills if they walk with other children. (I remember some fierce arguments with my older cousins as I walked two miles to the bus down country roads as an eight year old, but it taught us a lot about how to get along.)
• They'll have their safety-first road knowledge sharpened through daily use.
• They learn to take responsibility for their own time-keeping. If they miss the bus or get late to school they have to explain the reason why to both parents and teachers and suffer the consequences.
• If they get wet they quickly learn that raincoats are not just a nuisance.
• Could they get into trouble? Sure. That's how they learn.
• Could there be danger? We've got to let our kids learn that too. Packing them with cotton wool isn't the way to teach them anything.
Some ideas on how to keep them safe:
• Teach them the safety rules and then trust them to be the smart intelligent children you know you've raised.
• When they're little, walk or cycle with them.
• Or, get an older child to walk or ride with them.
• Start a Walking Bus in your community if they're young.
Over-protecting them is not loving them. Instead, it hurts them. We all benefit from being stretched, no matter what our age.