Uphill. Both ways. In the snow. It’s good for the brain.
Budget cuts to school systems nationwide have allowed educators, parents, and city planners to re-imagine otherwise taken-for-granted assumptions about certain practices and habits. In Fairfax County, VA, for example, “some members of the Board of Supervisors want the county’s schools to save money on buses by encouraging more kids to walk to school, perhaps by moving back the boundaries for bus-riding eligibility.”
I see this as a great opportunity to revive a once common practice: forty years ago, more than 4 out of every 10 students in American walked or biked to school; just five years ago, it was barely 1 in 10 (WaPo). Policies that increase rates of people-powered transportation may even improve the academic achievement of students.
Harvard professor John Ratey has written a fascinating book, titled Spark, that explores the “transformative effects of exercise on the brain.” In one chapter, he examines the physical education curriculum developed by PE4Life and employed in the Naperville School District outside of Chicago. Not only was it discovered that vigorous physical activity increase student academic achievement, but researchers have found that exercise facilitates neurogensis. Quite literally, activities like running, cycling, and even fast-paced walking (which can be done to and from school) both strengthen the connections between neurons and literally give birth to new nerve cells in the brain. “Exercise,” says Dr. Ratey, is “Miracle-Gro for the brain.”
Walking to school, then, doesn’t seem like such a bad idea—it may help to strengthen students’ bodies and prime their brains for learning.
Parents, teachers, and students may want to check out walkingschoolbus.org to learn how to develop a walking school bus in your neighborhood, and at saferoutesinfo.org, there are tips about how to find and create the safest walking or cycling routes in your community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has a website dedicated to the KidsWalk-to-School program.
BONUS: Below is a video of Dr. John Ratey speaking about his book and research during an Authors@Google event.