My absolute favorite times of the day are when I get to walk with my son to and from school. I do everything possible during the school week to make this happen. Barring any thunder/lightening storms, frigid temps, or work commitments, we have a “date” at 8:00 and 3:30, Monday thru Friday. And some days, if I’m lucky enough, he still even let’s me hold his hand! I know it’s only a matter of time until this will no longer be the case.
It’s only about 10-15 minutes each way, but I cherish every moment. To me it’s special time where we get to talk about the day and there’s nothing to distract us. I know we won’t and can’t be interrupted or tempted by the Wii, computer games, the phone, or the television. It’s such a great opportunity to chat, enjoy the great outdoors, breathe some fresh air, get some exercise, and save some gas!
We are fortunate to live close enough to the school to walk and to have lots of sidewalks to help keep us safe. Of course, as we walk, I am constantly reminded of how important it is to be safe, both as a pedestrian and as a driver, especially on International Walk to School Day. Each day, I undoubtedly witness drivers practicing unsafe behaviors. My observations support research done by Safe Kids which shows that one out of every six drivers in school zones is distracted! Typical distractions include cell phone use, eating, drinking, smoking, grooming, and reading. I always point this out to my son, hoping that one day (way off in the future...) it will make him a safer, more aware driver. And it makes me a better driver, because I see first hand just how unsafe these behaviors are, and how, in the blink of an eye, a child could easily be injured or even killed.
(Please keep in mind that in 2009, there were a total of 244 pedestrian fatalities in the 14- and -younger age group. Actually, from 2000 to 2009 the number of pedestrian fatalities decreased by 49% in children 14 and under, but we still have a lot of work to do to make the number of injuries and fatalities zero!)
As we make our back and forth trek, we not only talk about our days, but we discuss the best ways to be safe as a pedestrian. Before school even started, we “mapped out” what we believed to be the safest route. This included discussions about sidewalks, crosswalks, major intersections, and more. It was important for my son to take an active role in helping me make these decisions. I want him to start building the foundation for making safe choices.
In addition, I always point out to him the “safety details” as we walk to school. This includes points such as: using crosswalks whenever available, looking left/right/left when crossing a street (and to continue looking the entire way across) while maintaining eye contact with drivers, using sidewalks, crossing at corners, walking with a responsible adult at all times, obeying traffic/crossing signals and crossing guards, and more!! It’s actually to the point now where he will point out to me when he sees unsafe pedestrian activity!
I know it’s only a matter of time until my son will no longer want to hold my hand, give me a goodbye kiss, or even want me to walk near him on the way to school. So, I need to take this opportunity to both enjoy our time together and teach him how to be safe, so when the time does come for him to be more independent I will feel confident he has the skills to do so. Fortunately, this won’t be for a long time!
So please join me, my son, and thousands of other children across the country on October 6th for International Walk to School Day. Let’s all raise awareness about the importance of a safe environment for our children to walk to school, and increase awareness among drivers about the importance of undistracted driving.