It’s that time of year again – back to school! That means incorporating your children’s trip to and from school into your daily commute to work. We’ve compiled information on how to commute with children as well as information on school travel planning.
(1) Commuting with Children
You will be delighted to know that commuting in active and green ways with children is easy and, often, really fun. But in our car-centric world, you often have to use some creativity. Choosing active and green commuting is a fantastic way to show your children each and every day that cars aren’t the only way to get from A to B! Below are our Top Tips for Active & Green Commuting with Children.
Walking School Bus
While the wheels on the bus usually go round and round, team up with families in your neighbourhood to create a bus with feet! A walking bus is an excellent way to get the children to school each day. The adults in each family take a turn being the “driver” and they lead the route to school, stopping at each house or meeting point of other youngsters on the bus. This method takes planning and cooperation from your fellow parents, but is well worth the effort. And while you may have a longer walk when it’s your turn to “drive”, each other day you simply wave bye-bye to your little riders at the door and wish them a happy day at school. Our Active and Safe Routes to School program here at Green Action Centre has a handbook and resource guide with a full chapter on Walking School Buses. Check it out!
A Bike Train is the cycling version of a Walking School Bus! Get a group of children in the neighbourhood together and bike together as a collective and safe group.
Cycling with Children
Throughout Manitoba, people are discovering the joys of cycling. It’s an exciting, low-cost activity that’s good for your health, good for the environment and fun for people of all ages. MPI’s I Cycle Safely guidebook is a great resource for parents cycling with their children. Map out multiple routes and try them out with your children to see which ones work best for you and your family (based on skill and comfort levels). To map out your route, check out the Winnipeg Cycling Map, or, many cities and towns throughout Manitoba will post local cycling routes, like Steinbach, Brandon, and Morden.
Moving homes is a large commitment, so obviously it’s not a quick and easy strategy for all. But, if you are shopping around for a new home or apartment, consider how you will get to places you need to go to each day, especially if you have children or are planning a family. Will you be able to walk to school, to the grocery store? Is there a community centre and park or playground close by? How will you get to work each day? You can find out more information on factoring the cost of commuting on our blog post, Location Matters. And be sure to consider the long-term impacts of your housing choice in How Does Your Neighbourhood Score?
Are you hopping on the bus or train to get your little one to daycare before work, or to take a family outing downtown? Congratulations, you’ve chosen a method of travel that is ten times safer than commuting by car. Not only that, you also won’t have to haul a car carrier around on your adventures, or lug the stroller in and out of the trunk all day. Check out this fantastic post in Grist, What’s The Safest Way To Take My Baby On The Bus for great information. This helpful video from BC Transit on strollers and buses is just as applicable here in Winnipeg.
After school activities often mean events are taking place in communities or neighbourhoods that are too far to walk in the amount of time you have to get from place to place. Rural communities don’t have bus service, and activities like hockey can make transit travel difficult with equipment bags. What to do? Why not connect with families you see at similar activities to work out a plan to carpool? Parents can take turns driving (or those without a car can contribute gas money or team snacks). Carpooling can save you time, money and, of course, it is much better for the environment then individual parents driving their children to every activity. It’s also a great way to connect to your neighbours! Check out our website for some hints and tips when setting up your carpool.
Register for GoManitoba to find carpool partners as well as cycling and transit buddies!
Things to Bring
Packing a bag of goodies for the kiddos is essential for a happy commute. What to bring? A healthy snack is an excellent idea. For transit rides, staring out the window provides ample opportunity to play Eye Spy and other games, although you may also want to pack a book or a toy in case you need a distraction. But, beware of packing little Julie or Johnnie’s favourite toy. Because busy parents could miss packing something up at the end of the ride (or it could be tossed out of a wagon), it’s best to have some toys that aren’t near and dear to the little one’s heart, to avoid any meltdowns should something be left behind. Keep in mind, most transit systems have excellent lost and found programs. Don’t be afraid to make a call to track something down!
Plan Your Time (it’s worth it)
When you’re commuting with children, keep in mind that getting from place to place quickly might not be as high on their priority list as yours. So many wonders abound! Snowbanks to climb, flowers to smell, bugs to name. Plan appropriately so you can use this as quality time with your little ones. Find out what they are learning in school, share stories about your childhood adventures. In our busy lives, it’s important to smell the roses! Check out this post from a fellow parent on walking with children.
Get the Gear
You can go hands free on more than just calling! Put down your blue-tooth and stop lugging around that awkward carrier. Today’s market is full of hands free carriers that grow with your baby. Baby wear carriers make it easy to travel with your infant, allowing you to pick up some groceries, hold your toddler’s hand and pay for transit. Check out Baby Gear Lab for some hints and tips on getting the right carrier for you. Remember, this is a long-term investment. Many carriers are suitable for newborns right up until children are three. That’s 1,095 days of comfort if you choose the right one for you!
Pictured here is Anna Gilroy who embraces walking with her children even in the depths of winter. This outfit may look like it’s off the set of the last Lord of the Rings, but Anna can’t live without it. “I’m warm and my baby is warm, even without a snowsuit. When we get where we’re going I can just unwrap and away we go. No baby snowsuit struggles, which is an extra bonus when you’re chasing a toddler!”
Finally, the number one tip we’ve received on active commuting with children is to recognize the different stages of development. Bryan Reger, pictured here with his toddler and twins, notes that when they head out, the eldest is on a bike or scooter while the twins are often pulled in a wagon. This way, everyone can go at the same pace as mom and dad. You can also all hop on your bikes, with older children on their own bike or connected with you on a tag along, and youngsters in a wagon or bike seat. Check out our post on Biking With Your Family for great hits and tips!
(2) School Travel Planning
Walking and cycling as a means of transportation are on the decline in Canada, as part of a decades-long international trend toward more sedentary lifestyles and increased dependence on automobiles. This in turn has led to an increase in childhood obesity and related health issues, as well as negative environmental consequences. This trend has also led to extreme traffic congestion around schools increasing the risk of injuries. There is great need to reverse these trends with active school travel.
Increasing the number of children who walk and bike to school each day can play a substantial role in making our children healthier and happier. Active school travel builds physical activity into the day and sets children up with an active lifestyle that can carry on into adulthood. Children and youth who walk and bike to school become a greater part of their community, and communities that promote active transportation become increasingly vibrant, safe, and inclusive.
The School Travel Planning process addresses barriers to active transportation and the safety concerns of the school community, creating action plans to address these issues through a collaborative and supportive process with different stakeholders in the community.
The Active and Safe Routes to School (ASRTS) Program at Green Action Centre has been working in Manitoba for over a decade engaging with schools, parents, community stakeholders, and policy makers to implement meaningful programs to encourage more children to actively travel to and/or from school, as a means to live healthier and eco-friendlier lifestyles. The ASRTS team are leaders in School Travel Planning in Manitoba, and our team works across the Province to deliver quality programming and events.
We envision a province where all children can walk and bike to school on safe routes.