Walking to School

Me walking through the streets aged six

In the Seventies we walked to school, even if it was over a mile away. We walked without our mums once they thought we were old enough. I was six when I started to walk alone through the park. Gasp, horror, should any child today be required to walk a mile alone to school it might be a case worth reporting to social services.

It’s obvious why it has changed, of course. As Jimmie, one of the main characters in Silence, says (to paraphrase): parents drive their children to school because they are worried that their children will get injured due to the increase of traffic caused by parents driving their children to school.

There is also the possibility of abduction, which was perhaps just as prevalent in the 70’s but wasn’t as well publicised as it is today. Although a far greater number of children are killed or injured by family members or by road accidents than are abducted off the street to be abused or killed, it still remains every parent’s nightmare.

Parents (okay, let’s face it, mothers) are more likely now to work full-time and away from home rather than the part-time local jobs they may have had in the Seventies. They have to drop their children off on the way as there just isn’t time to walk them to school and then come back home to take the car to work. Children are more likely to live further away from school as local schools are shut down and supermarket schools have huge catchments. The situation has snowballed as the more traffic there is on the road, the more likely it is that traffic will increase.

I still can't stand stillIn the Seventies, the majority of children walked to school. Now the majority are driven either in their parents’ cars or on the bus. I sincerely believe that this major cultural shift, together with a distinct lack of ‘playing out’, is a significant contributor to the current problem of childhood obesity. I don’t think we would even have known what that phrase meant back then.

When I was eight I had to go to a special school (I had ADHD). As this school was in the next town, I had a special taxi take me there. It made me feel very special but it also made me fat. On one day per week I went to my old school and for the rest of the week I went to Atherstone Day Unit. (Sounds marvellous, doesn’t it?) Consequently, although I was still very active, hyperactive in fact, I started to get a big podgy. I dread to think what sort of side-of-a-bus shape I’d have been if I wasn’t hyperactive.

Me on my bike aged 7

I can see from photos that although I was considered ‘fat’, this was nothing compared to the children we see today. But as I had two beanpoles for sisters, I didn’t really stand a chance. I don’t blame the non-walking for this completely, it also had something to do with me eating everything that I saw, including other people’s food. But I think that if I’d walked more then I wouldn’t have absorbed the ‘fat person’ identity quite so easily.

It wasn’t just the physical health of children that benefited from walking to school, but our mental health. That small amount of time every day alone, or with friends, and unsupervised, inspired our independence and fired our imaginations. Yes, it put us at risk, but it also made us able to live in the real world. It must be an awful shock now to be an eighteen year old going to college to find that the world isn’t made for you and you won’t be spoonfed. Oh, I forgot, they do that too in college now, don’t they?

Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room


One Response

  1. […] EditorReally interesting read I found today:When I was eight I had to go to a special school (I had ADHD). As this school was in the next town, I had a special taxi take me there. It made me feel very special but it also made me fat. On one day per week I went to my old school … […]

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