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Study finds less than half of Australian children aged five to six and nine to 10 years walk or ride to school.

A new study by the University of South Australia rated Aussie kids with a C grade after it was revealed that less than half of Australian children walk, scoot, bike or skateboard to school at least once a week.

“Our report card shows that travelling to school — and potentially other destinations like a friend’s house, the shops or playground — via foot or self-propelled wheel has indeed become ‘the road less travelled’,” research fellow Dr Natasha Schranz says.

“Kids today move from the capsule of their homes, into the capsule of their cars, to the capsule of their school rooms. It’s changed a lot from when their parents were kids as we have seen a 42 per cent decline in a generation.”

AHKA Research Fellow Dr Natasha Schranz says just below half of primary school students and just above half of secondary school students use active transport to or from school once a week or more.

“We set the bar quite low in this report card, but still only managed a C,” Dr Schranz says.

“Walking or cycling to school once a week is not asking a lot. Maybe as a nation we are lowering our expectations.

“We need to find the right balance between wanting our children and young people to be physically active as much as possible every day, and what is practical and achievable for Australian families.”

Parents of children aged 5-6 years and 9-10 years reported that 45 per cent and 47 per cent respectively used active travel to or from school at least once per week. The results were slightly better for high school students, but not by much: 59 per cent reported using active travel to or from school at least once per week.

“Our report card shows that travelling to school – and potentially other destinations like a friend’s house, the shops or playground – via foot or self-propelled wheel has indeed become ‘the road less travelled’,” Dr Schranz says.

“Kids today move from the capsule of their homes, into the capsule of their cars, to the capsule of their school rooms. It’s changed a lot from when their parents were kids as we have seen a 42 per cent decline in a generation. It’s certainly a very different world today compared to decades past when it was expected that children would walk one to two hours per day in their journey to school and back.”

Dr Schranz says reasons why this has happened include:
•Safety – stranger danger and road traffic safety concerns.
•The distance kids are willing or allowed to go – the distance children can or will navigate on their own has dramatically declined compared to that of past generations.
•Family and home life – families are smaller, meaning there are fewer siblings to ride or walk to school with; more families now have two working parents; and more families own at least two cars, with time being a large factor in the school drop off before work for working families.
•Location – schools are further away from homes these days, as more children go to private schools and small schools have been amalgamated into super schools.

“While there are many external factors that play a role in how active children are when getting to and from different places, we need to remember that we are also living in a society where many of our daily tasks have become sedentary and it is likely that the world will continue to adopt more labour-saving and sedentary practices,” Dr Schranz says.

“Children who use active transport to get to or from school are not only more physically active than those who do not, but also accumulate more daily minutes of health enhancing activity, take more steps, expend more energy over the day and generally have better physical fitness.

“The time to act is now. We need to be looking for every opportunity to help kids be more active, and given active transport is inclusive for all, we need to encourage the children of today for whom active transport is the ‘road less travelled’ to engage in more than what is currently being done.”

Dr Schranz says in order to improve the C grade and increase the number of Australian children and young people using active transport to and from school, a combined effort is needed from parents, the education sector, community groups, urban planning and transport sectors and government at all levels.

She suggests things that can be done now, in order to make a meaningful difference in the future, include:
•Encouraging schools to have active transport policies.
•Parents implementing ‘park and ride’ strategies where older children are dropped off and picked up at a distance away from the school grounds, or use public transport for part of their journey.
•Ensuring that surrounding school neighbourhoods have high street connectivity and optimal density levels to support and encourage active commuting to and from school and reduce the distance needed to travel by students.
•Communities advocating to councils for changes being made to the physical environment that make it easier for children to negotiate traffic, such as adequate crossing infrastructure and measures to slow traffic, so children can travel on safe walking and riding paths.

Do your kids walk or ride to school?

Share your thoughts below.

  • Zoning of some schools does not make walking practical in some cases. I know a family who are 10 minutes walk from a primary school but are not zoned to that one. They live one street over and the school reckoned they had their limit of students in that class. They now have a 10 minute walk ub the other direction to catch a bus for a 10 -15 minute bus ride — even longer if there is a traffic jam. 6 years old is too young to send a child to school on a bus in a state they have only recently moved into. I know another family who thought they had 2 school options. They were two streets out of zone of the preferred one. Their zoned one is further away and a few of the kids in his class are disruptive so he definitely isn’t learning to his potential. Mums are very wary of letting kids go to school on their own as there has been too many attempted abductions and cases of abuse. We walked to school in groups. Neighbours had older children nearing the end of primary school when we were in Junior Primary so we walked together. Public Transport is very poor in some areas. If the buses run from too far away, sometimes it is easier to take the kids to school.

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  • My daughter walks to school but not by choice, its because I start work early and it still scares me with all the stories I hear about kidnapping. She has been taught stranger danger and always takes the main road so there are many people about

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  • Unfortunately not. My son is only in prep and school is a good 30min walk away but only takes 6 mins in car so because of age, locality of school and because it’s just so much more convenient I drive him to school.

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  • We always walked to school, it was 800 metres away, had brolly’s for winter, we always had fun along the way.

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  • I walk my kids to school a lot also home but sometimes it’s just too hot

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  • We walk mostly, except when it’s either really hot, or raining.

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  • No C grading my my kids but I am bias.

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  • it is definitely different from when I was a child, I am a mom of two girls and I am fearful about them walking due to sexual predators and child abductions. I’m not sure (I dont recall) if this sort of thing happened back in the early 80’s when I was going to school as much as it does now or if it’s different because the media are more involved in sharing these stories – I just want to protect them and not put our family in that heartbreaking situation


    • There is definitely more media and the news is saturated with stories via radio, TV, social networks.

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  • Lke ha

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  • you know these days this is quite true , with no back yards to play in and stranger danger kids are always inside

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  • I agree this article is harsh.

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  • This article seems pretty harsh! We live 12km from school and that’s not uncommon these days. Once our child is old enough, we are more than happy for public transport to be used. Must also add, young kids these days carry so very much more to school each day than we ever did – there’s no way we would have walked carry the load young kids do today.


    • Good point about the amount kids are expected to carry – laptops and other devices.



      • yes i agree! their bags are getting so heavy. our school is not air-con so in summer, they are melting all day and then to walk another 25mins home is too much! not too bad in wintertime though.

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  • Piff .. a C grading really there are so many factors why.. and in my eyes no 5-6 year old should be walking, scooting, riding to school on their own any way, it is still dangerous even if they have an older sibling with them, walking should be done with mum or dad.

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  • I do walk my kids to school sometimes but not as much as I should,

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  • We are used to walk. I don’t drive so, since kindergarten, my daughter is used to walk to school. During primary school it was around 15-20 minutes walking each way, depending on where we lived. Now she’s in secondary school and we live 70 kilometers away from school. Walking all way is not an option! ;-) Thus bus, train, and then walk ten minutes from the station till the school.

    Reply

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