Winter weather can be cold and snowy, but there are many ideas that can make walking to school both safe and fun — even in the middle of winter! Escape cabin fever and enjoy being outdoors by walking to school!
Dressing appropriately for the outdoors is essential.
“It is important for children to prepare for the weather and to realize that the proper clothes will make them comfortable,” says Kathy Abbott, Chatham Township Committee Member, adding, “They should feel the four seasons of New Jersey, not be kept inside all the time and insulated from our weather.” The best way to generate warmth is by layering. Wearing many layers of loose clothing creates pockets of air between layers that insulate the body from the cold. On really cold days, keep your hands and head covered, and wear a scarf over your face and mouth to protect exposed skin and prevent heat loss. Wear warm, waterproof boots with traction for icy conditions, as well as a warm coat that deflects wind and water. Clothing made of wool is especially helpful for retaining heat. Although warm clothing will help make your walk more comfortable, remember to use extra caution during extreme weather conditions.
Use common sense and be safe.
There may be icy spots along the way that are difficult to see. Walking too fast could result in slips, trips or falls. Set a good example for the whole neighborhood by promptly clearing sidewalks, crosswalks, and curb cuts. Another tip for winter walking is to ensure that you are visible. Avoid wearing dark colors, particularly in the evening, and carry a flashlight or wear something reflective so that drivers can easily see you. Battery-powered lights that blink or reflective zipper pulls on backpacks or clothing help ensure maximum visibility when walking.
If biking in winter, make sure your bike is winter-ready. Check that the tires are inflated, the brakes work properly, and the chain is clean and lubricated. Bicyclists should ride in the same direction as the motorists, on the right side of the road. While riding, keep both hands on the handle bars, and prepare to brake frequently. Because brakes are less efficient when wet, allow extra distance for stopping in the rain, sleet and snow. As always, wear a helmet!
Farmingdale Rocks (and Walks) in Winter Weather!
Lynn Barall, School Nurse and Member of the School Health Council at the Farmingdale Public School in Monmouth County, leads a number of fun initiatives to encourage walking to school throughout the winter, and the school district’s Superintendent, Cheri Crowl is supportive of year-round walking to school. Farmingdale Public School offers walking school buses that run daily both morning and after school. They also have “W2SW” or Walk to School Wednesdays year round in which parents, students and school staff walk together to school each week. Every month, a theme is created supporting W2SW and encouraging participation:
- January was “Bundle up to Walk” month when staff educated students about proper dressing and layering during the month and used stuffed animals with scarves, hats, gloves, etc. to model appropriate cold weather gear and apparel.
- Fiesta February was celebrated with salsa music and sombreros and a whopping one-third of the school participated even though it was month of volatile weather conditions and school closings and delays!
Furthermore, Farmingdale creates excitement and competition for its walking school buses and W2SW particularly during the winter months:
- The administration recognizes their “Walking Warriors,” students who walk to school during extreme conditions and winter obstacles, by announcing each student’s name over the loudspeaker during school.
- They measure participation in W2SW each month and set goals to break various records and widely praise and announce when records are broken.
- They work with local businesses, restaurants and non-profit organizations to donate food items such as instant oatmeal packets, fresh fruit and granola bars to reward and encourage students to walk regularly, particularly throughout the winter.
- Raffle tickets and prizes are also used to promote and boost students to walk to school.
- Middle school students volunteer as mentors and assist adults with walking school buses and W2SW and helps increase participation for the younger students.
The success of their winter walking efforts is as a result of the commitment from the school and parents. Even though walking buses and W2SW continue rain or shine (or snow!), weather is checked daily and dedicated parent volunteers and school staff assist students who walk to school through encouragement, reward and just plain fun!
Special thanks to Kathy Abbott, Lynn Barall, and Katie Mageira for their contributions to this article!
Source: Active & Safe Routes to School (http://www.saferoutestoschool.ca/)