Editor’s note: This post was updated on June 2, 2021.
When Jennifer Keesmaat was a kid, she walked to school. It would take her 15 minutes to get there and sometimes 1.5 hours to get home, but that was okay because the journey mattered. It mattered to her sense of self, her health, and her understanding of the world. She had exploring to do, chances she wanted to take. Walking to school helped shape her worldview.
As former chief planner and executive director for the City of Toronto, Keesmaat used the below TED Talk to question what happened to this free, simple adventure that all parents ought to offer their children.
Keesmaat pointed out that in 1969, only 12% of the population was driven to school. More recently, only 12% of the population walk to school. In one generation we have completely inverted the way we get to school, and that matters for three reasons:
- Walking to school is a rite of passage. By doing so, children begin to understand who they are in relation to their neighbourhood, their community, their world. The walk provides trials to be overcome. If we prevent children this chance to develop autonomy, we put the future of our society at risk.
- As walking has decreased, obesity has significantly increased and obesity is linked to health issues. Children who walk to school are more likely to be active throughout the day.
- We need to live more simply. We’re taking more from the Earth than the planet has to give, and creating more waste than it can assimilate. What’s more simple – and green – than strapping on your shoes and walking to school?
As Keesmat says, kids don’t need permission to walk to school. They don’t need a license. They can do it right now. Exercise before school improves attentiveness in class, and leads to better grades. Plus, it provides an important opportunity for them to become independent.