Starting school is a Big Thing; it’s exciting, they want to make friends and impress the teacher… and that’s just the parents!
But it can also be overwhelming with so much information to take in and a strong desire to do the ‘right thing’.
If you want parents and pupils to get the ‘walk to school’ habit from the start they may need your help and encouragement but your efforts now could have a really long-lasting effect.
Here are ten tips for schools to help make the most of this opportunity and create a ‘walk to school’ culture:
1. Put it on the Agenda
Make sure ‘walking to school’ is on the agenda for your New Starter Parents Meeting and there is plenty of information for parents to see and take away, as well as the opportunity to ask questions. If you already have a parent at your school who you consider a ‘school travel champion’, for example a walking bus coordinator, ask them to give a short talk about the ways walking is promoted. When term starts, seeing a familiar face will make newbies feel welcome to join schemes.
2. Show Commitment From the Head
Whilst many head teachers are unlikely to have the time to be active organisers of walk to school schemes, it really gives credibility, help and inspiration if they show their support. From a few supporting words introducing the school travel champion’s presentation to the Head joining the walking bus for a special ‘welcome walk’ event, it can make a big difference.
3. Why Walk? Give Them Reasons
It’s obvious that walking is healthier than being driven by car but that may not be enough of a reason for parents to start a walk-to-school habit. Until they try it they may not realise how sociable it is too… and how much their children enjoy it. Here are 10 reasons to walk to school you can use in your presentation materials.
4. How to Walk! Give Them Practical Information About Schemes
If your school already has schemes set up to promote walking make sure new parents can access all the relevant information.
For example have you explained where Park and Stride stops are? What time and from where does the walking bus leave? Do pupils sign up or can they just join in with their parents? When will these schemes start in the new term? Are other active travel modes encouraged – can they ride a scooter and leave it at school?
5. Address Their Concerns
Try to understand the barriers to walking that parents in your area have, so you can address them.
For example, parents may worry about safety but new starters will be accompanied by their parents who can teach them how to walk safely, where to cross etc. This means by the time they are older they will have developed road sense and be able to walk on their own. Much safer than a child who is always driven and doesn’t know how to cross a road!
6. Show Off Past Successes and Lead by Example
A picture speaks a thousand words and photos of happy children taking part in a walk to school event are very eye-catching. Use any you have for a display at your New Starter meeting along with summaries of the event.
Newspaper clippings are particularly good as parents often like the idea of their children potentially also ‘getting in the papers’. (See How to Write a Press Release for Your Walk to School Event). If you have already been successful with local press coverage, new parents are more likely to already know about your walk to school initiatives anyway.
If you have a walk to school scheme already up and running it will be much easier to promote walking to parents of new pupils. So give your schemes a polish, check forms are up to day, stock up on reward resources and give a boost with a ‘relaunch event’ for the new school year.
7. Tell Them, Tell Them Again… and Five More Times
You may not realise it but you are working in Marketing… a successful ‘sale’ for you is getting children to walk to school. There is a marketing adage, The Rule of Seven, which says your prospect needs to see or hear your message seven times before they take action. This applies to your campaign initiatives too.
Parents may feel bamboozled with information at this important time in their child’s life so if you want to get your walk-to-school message across you need to tell them more than once… and in more than one way.
Use the different media you have available… presentation at the meeting, display in the foyer, printed materials to take away at the meeting, parent letter at the start of term, display on a Travel Info noticeboard by the entrance, article in local newsletter, page on school website, info in prospectus and link on school twitter feed.
8. Be as Inclusive as You Can
‘Oh well, we live five miles from the school so we can’t walk’. Unless you tell them, it may not be obvious to everyone that they can join your schemes. A Park and Stride scheme allows families who have to drive some of the way to park away from school and walk the last bit.
Also, ‘walking to school’ doesn’t have to mean literally walking – wheelchair travel counts too even if it’s just a short way! See ‘Why you don’t have to walk on the walking bus’ for ways to include everyone in your active travel campaigns.
9. Find and Fuel Your Champions
Many successful walk to school schemes are dependent on a key person; often a parent but it could also be a teacher or teaching assistant. They have a personal passion for getting children to walk more and reduce traffic around the school. They also somehow find the time to spend on organising and promoting walk to school schemes. Every school needs one!
If you already have a travel champion at your school make sure they get the resources and help they need and they will be able to be an even greater asset.
However, children move on, and therefore so do parents. This can mean a scheme may decline when the original supporters go. So always be on the lookout for potential new ‘parent champions’ and give them the encouragement and support too. Your New Starter Parents Meeting could be the first chance to meet your next champion!
10. Make it Fun…Reduce the Stress
This is the biggest way to draw parents to your schemes. Every parent knows mornings are stressful but if you promote walking to school as a fun, positive experience it will give the children something to look forward to first thing.
Longer term, if children get used to walking, by the time they are older they may be able to walk on their own which will reduce the stress and driving commitment for parents.
To increase the fun element why not hold the occasional themed walk to school event. Keep it as simple as you want. Any material preparations can be done during a school lunchtime travel club. See some seasonal ideas from this year, (which could be used again next year!). A themed event, maybe with a special guest, will make your scheme into something others want to be part of.
A Head Teacher’s Perspective
Finally, here’s Ann Politowski, Head Teacher at Riddings Infant and Nursery School in Derbyshire, which has achieved the Modeshift STARS gold accreditation for active travel promotion. They excel in promoting not just walking but other active travel modes such as scooting and cycling to school. See their website for lots of inspiration!:
“Encouraging parents to think about how they are going to travel to school with their child is as important as thinking about all the other aspects of starting school. New Starter meetings are a great opportunity to tell parents and pupils about the bike and scooter activities we have in school, as well as reminding parents to walk to school, and if they have to drive – to park responsibly.” Ann Politowski, Head Teacher, Riddings Infant and Nursery School.
Good luck and happy walking!
With thanks to Derbyshire County Council and Riddings Infant and Nursery School for use of images and quote.