Thursday, September 28, 2006

Walking to School & UIUC Campus "Walk Toward Wellness"

Listen to the commentary
Real Audio : MP3 download

Link to local International Walk to School information.

Link to Walk Toward Wellness

The most basic form of human locomotion, walking, gets so little respect in our culture, I sometimes wonder we don’t just forget how to do it. As a means of getting from one place to another, it’s a last resort. As a form of exercise, it’s an afterthought. But upcoming activities in Champaign-Urbana and on the U of I campus suggest that walking isn’t down for the count just yet.

Next week six elementary schools—three in Urbana and three in Champaign—will mark the third local observance of International Walk to School Day. This event encourages walking to school as a way of promoting children’s health, reducing fuel consumption and air pollution, and emphasizing the need for safe routes for walking and bicycling.

Now these are all fine reasons to walk to school, but they’re a little heavy on virtue. I would emphasize, in addition, that it is enjoyable for children to walk to school, and a treat for parents who take the opportunity to walk with them.

The walk to and from school is a great time to enjoy listening to kids. They’re not distracted by books or television or computers or toys. And parents who are walking with them are free to listen instead of focusing on the demands of driving. In the morning you may be reminded of the kinds of things that kids look forward to in a day, whether that’s time to work on a special project in class, free time in P. E., or just what’s on the menu for lunch. In the afternoon, you may find out what children have learned in class, but you’re just as likely to hear what was gross, what was funny, who was mean or nice to whom—the kinds of things that really occupy kids.

Walking to school is also a great way to enjoy the natural world, even in a relatively urban setting. After all, any walk can be a nature hike if you approach it as one. Walking to school gives kids a chance to investigate the ants that sometimes pile up around cracks in the sidewalk, time to wonder why squirrels chase each other, or whether a monarch butterfly can really make it all the way to Mexico. It also provides excellent opportunities to smash acorns, kick walnuts, and collect buckeyes.

And on top of that, walking to school is good for kids and the environment.

Of course walking also promotes wellness in adults, and that’s the aim of the Second Annual “Walk Toward Wellness,” which will begin at noon tomorrow on the main quad at the U of I. The walk will kick off with brief comments from Provost Linda Katehi and take you about 4,000 steps through campus. The walk is part of a larger initiative to promote the well-being of the campus community sponsored by the Culture of Wellness Committee. You can register for the “Walk Toward Wellness” online, or sign in on the quad after 11:00 Friday morning.

Whether you can make the “Walk Toward Wellness” tomorrow, or walk to school with your children next week, I hope you do get the chance to reconnect with this most basic form of human locomotion. More walking may not be the answer to all of our problems, but for many of them, it’s a step in the right direction.