Walk & Wheel programs encourage families to travel to and from school in an active way throughout the school year. These programs feature regular days – weekly, monthly, etc. – on which active travel to school is encouraged, supported and celebrated.
Having a regular Walk & Wheel program allows a school to keep encouraging active travel throughout the school year, keeping the torch lit and the message alive even as days shorten and the temptation to drive becomes stronger. Having designated days on which a school community commits to travelling actively can allow families to build regular walks to school into their routine, setting aside time and prepping for a trip that they might not be able to make on a daily basis.
In terms of broader impact, participating in a regular Walk & Wheel program can help normalize walking and cycling to school. Once out of the car, it's easy to meet other families from one's neighbourhood who are walking to school, providing a sense of connectedness and safety. And families who have never before made the trip to school on foot may realize it is not as time-consuming or difficult as they had initially thought.
Ongoing events require a dedicated organizer, and it is helpful to have a consistent team of volunteers. The main organizer can be a parent or staff member; volunteers can be drawn from parents or PAC members, administrators or teachers, or students leaders.
Once an organizer has been identified and has a sense of the capacity of their team, it becomes easier to determine what form and frequency their school’s Walk & Wheel program can have: daily, weekly or monthly.
Start by engaging the community – to get the program started and keep it going, you're going to need help.
Other parents, school staff or student leaders are all potential collaborators. Community groups and businesses are other potential sources of support. Once you’ve built and have a sense of the capacity of your team, it becomes easier to determine what form and frequency your school’s Walk & Wheel program can take.
With a team in place and an idea in mind, it’s time to build the program. Come up with a name: Walking Wednesday. Freedom Friday. Whatever name your school gives it, the idea is brand the Walk & Wheel program to help communicate it to your school community.
Help parents get organized by communicating early, providing tips for picking a route and getting ready in the morning. Let families who are coming from far away know about park-and-walk locations and transit routes so they can plan accordingly and participate. Generate energy and awareness among students and through the community using posters, announcements, skits and events – this a great point at which to get student volunteers involved.
Send out reminders before event days, and organize check-in’s or welcome activities at the school to help foster a positive experience and give families a sense that they’re part of a community initiative. In the longer term, setting goals or hosting competitions is a good way to maintain energy and motivation. Here are some examples and ideas:
- Reward the class with the most participation each week with recognition or a trophy, or using a simple prize like extra recess time.
- Set a goal of walking across the province… or the country! You might have students calculate the length of their trips, or just use a standard distance and track their progress on a map.
- Create themes or activities - scavenger hunts, eye-spy games, sneaker decoration stations, etc. - to help families inject a sense of fun into their walk to school.
The goal of a regular Walk & Wheel program is to promote active trips to school all year round. As such, it can be initiated any time – but getting started when the weather is nice and the days are still long can help generate the energy needed to carry the program through wetter, darker months.
International Walk to School Day/Week/Month or Walk & Wheel Week, both of which take place in October, are great opportunities to kick off your school’s Walk & Wheel program. Earth Day and Bike to School Week, which happen in the spring, are other good opportunities – though a spring start will likely mean extra work getting things back on track in the fall.
Winter Walk Day, usually the first Wednesday in February, works too.
Retaining volunteers for a program that runs throughout the school year can be a challenge. Recruiting more folks than initially needed will keep everyone’s workload low and build resilience in case of attrition. Students who are part of a club or team that meets regularly make great volunteers – meetings during lunch or through an established extra-curricular program can make things easier to manage. To ramp things up, reach out to community organizations or businesses to supplement your team or run activities.
Keeping the momentum
Another challenge with a year-long program can be declining energy or participation – especially when dark or wet mornings make the car a more attractive option than finding everyone's rain jackets. Building the program into the culture of the school, and harnessing students’ energy and enthusiasm, is your best bet for maintaining momentum throughout the school year. Give the program a profile beyond the morning walk by:
- posting pictures on social media;
- providing reminders and accounts of key events;
- celebrating participants, and making the arrival at school a social occasion;
- providing information and reminders about the benefits of walking through communications to parents; and
- integrating the event into the school’s calendar, website, and other platforms where it will draw attention.
Recruit older student volunteers or a leadership group to calculate participation, make the announcements, and create posters or lobby displays.
Tracking and Evaluation
With a daily program, having students track their own trips to school is easy: post a tally sheet outside of each class or in a common, accessible area of the school, ask students to record their trip and how they travelled when they arrive at school or during. At the end of the week, the forms can be collected and tabulated, and replaced with fresh forms for the following week.
For a weekly or monthly program, keep track of the number of students who walk by using the Teacher Sign-in sheet (see resource section). To calculate the school total, add up the counts from all participating classes to get the total number of students who walked (or biked, bladed, hopped or skipped) to school. Or record participation electronically – there is an app for everything! Review the following options to see if they’ll work for the program or school. Some have a cost which would require PAC support: