A few decades ago, students would gather in groups to walk to school without the need for adult supervision. At present, it is increasingly common for boys and girls to be transported in cars or buses to their schools. This dynamic has reduced their autonomy and transformed their trips into passive situations under constant surveillance.
It is true that the detriment of physical activity can have negative consequences for the health of minors, such as the increase in childhood obesity. However, this transformation in transport habits also has implications beyond health. In fact, the constant supervision of an adult figure can limit the development of personal autonomy and the ability to resolve conflicts in children.
maturity and responsibility
Several authors have shown that active and autonomous school routes improve aspects such as spatial awareness, decision-making, school concentration and improve knowledge about their environment, which fosters their maturity and responsibility.
In addition, this practice not only affects the physical and personal development of minors, but also influences their social development. This is because the times when they feel free and safe are the best for creating a learning environment and building healthy relationships.
Sense of belonging
Beyond the environmental problem caused by the change in transport habits (and the increase in trips by car or bus), the decrease in time that children spend daily walking around their neighborhood implies a lack of attachment and a feeling of belonging.
In turn, this lack has consequences on the personal and social life of minors. In fact, it has been shown that walking freely around the neighborhood is beneficial for them to develop better relationships with their environment and the people who inhabit it, as well as for creating ties with the place where they live.
By not walking the streets daily or not knowing the shops and merchants that surround them, they miss out on a valuable opportunity to connect with their community and feel part of it.
The perception of families
As is often the case, these new habits are both a consequence and a cause of the environments that schoolchildren move through being less safe and suitable for them than they have been in the past.
Traffic density, black spots, and even the lack of green space can cause many families to question the safety of the path to school. In this sense, the perception of danger of families is one of the decisive elements for choosing the mode of travel to school. Ultimately, responsible adults are the ones who decide whether students can walk to schools and colleges on their own.
Safe routes, participatory processes
Therefore, it is essential that institutions get involved and understand the need to create safe pathways for autonomous and active travel. They are modifications of the city that can be carried out through participatory processes.
These processes are the ideal moment to listen to families (adults and minors) and make them protagonists of municipal decisions.
In several municipalities, institutions and schools, projects are being carried out that encourage autonomous and active travel by minors, with very positive results. Specifically, in Spain, there are numerous examples with positive results for children and society in general.
One of them is Haurren Hirien Sarea (Children’s Cities Network), through which the Eskolara Lagunekin (“To school with friends”) project has been launched in different municipalities of the Basque Autonomous Community. Through this initiative, in municipalities such as Leioa or Bilbao, thousands of boys and girls are protagonists of projects for autonomous mobility and school routes.
Social transformation from the immediate environment
However, many of these initiatives lack the necessary social recognition for relevant results. Therefore, a greater effort must be made to popularize autonomous mobility projects and offer greater visibility to existing projects. In this way, families and society in general will be more aware of the relevance of children’s autonomy and active trips to school.
The journeys to schools are presented as a valuable opportunity for boys and girls to develop both their physical, personal and social skills, as well as for a change in the role of children in society as a whole.