On Monday, March 19, the Active and Safe Routes to School team held our first parent and community info night at the St. James-Assiniboia Library. Thank you to everyone who came out! We were happy to see so many people concerned about Manitoba’s low rates of active school travel (walking, biking, and rolling on other wheels) and we had some great discussions (see links below!). If you were unable to join us, here is a summary we provided to attendees.Throughout the hour-long workshop, we covered a lot of ground:

  • Why Active School Travel matters—what we lose when kids are driven
  • The state of Active School Travel in Manitoba and elsewhere
  • Identifying and overcoming barriers to Active School Travel
  • Changes we can make right now
  • Active School Travel initiatives and case studies (Walking School Bus, etc.)
  • Advocating for active school travel policies and infrastructure
  • Techniques for behaviour change

For our part, we learned about parent concerns around laws and policies relating to children under 12 being unsupervised and fears about liability if someone was to be injured. This is an important concern that we will address in a future blog post. We also got valuable feedback that will help us improve future workshops and the resources we offer—we will be sure to add more specific techniques for action, discuss laws that relate to active school travel for young children, address partnerships with community clubs and other non-school organizations, and offer a wider range of local case studies.

Parents Have a Role to Play

To quote Dr. Mark Tremblay, lead researcher on Canada’s 2016 ParticipAction study, “You can build all the infrastructure and policies and programs and so on that you want but if [physical activity is] not something that is internally valued and normative, or even the default behaviour, then it’s just not going to happen.” Even without improved policies and infrastructure, there are things we can do right now that have a real impact on kids’ activity:

  • Be a role model for your child and use alternatives to driving, particularly for short distances. If you bring them with you, they’ll learn valuable pedestrian and road safety skills, and they won’t think of cars as the default mode of travel.
  • If walking or biking is not an option right now, reduce your impact on congestion and pollution around the school. Arrange to carpool with a child’s friends who are also being driven, and park a short distance from the school to let them walk or walk together.
  • Many parents are more comfortable when their children aren’t getting to school alone, so coordinate an informal walking school bus or bike train with kids in your neighbourhood.
  • Studies show that all-or-nothing approaches aren’t very effective at changing habits. Start by making a small commitment, even once a week, to walk or bike with your child.
  • Challenge the prevailing safety concerns—it is dangerous for children’s physical and mental health to not create opportunities for them to be active.
  • Use our Making Children Count Report to jump-start talks about the benefits and importance of active school travel with parent councils, principals, school boards, or city councilors.
  • Connect Green Action Centre with school system champions for sustainability or active travel so that we can support those who are concerned but short on time.
  • Advocate for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, including sidewalk installation/rehabilitation, snow clearing, and traffic calming.

We are always looking for ways we can support advocates in the community. If you are looking to host your own community workshop on active school travel, or connect us with your parent council, don’t hesitate to reach out to us!

Going Deeper…