The other day, I drove around a suburban block six times looking for a car space within walking distance of my grandchildren’s school. My frustration grew as home time approached and I parked many, many streets away and jogged to the school, desperate not to be late and leave my charges wondering what had happened to me.
But it made me ask the question: why don’t kids walk to and from school anymore?
Do you remember the pleasure of dawdling home after school, playing games of imagination? There was the ritual of making sure you didn’t step on the cracks in the pavement, because if you did the devil would get you! Goodness knows where we got that idea as a child but there it was, part of the ritual of jumping and hopping on one foot, avoiding the lines delineating the sections of concrete. Would we have even known what a devil was back then? But we knew it was something bad.
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Then there were the flights of fantasy about the abandoned house on the corner of the street, the one like Boo Radley lived in, a worn-down weatherboard needing a paint and a scruffy unkempt garden to match, weeds growing where plants should have been. We invented a witch to match the house, a cruel old woman who would capture children if we got too close to the house. We ran past it as quickly as we could but always looked back to try to catch a glimpse of our phantom. A diet of Grimm’s fairy tales no doubt had fired our imagination.
As we grew older, the nature of the journey home changed. We chatted with our friends, we had bursts of energy running from street corner to corner trying to outdo each other, a frantic game of physical one-upmanship, our lungs heaving at the exertion and then our bodies slowing to a more measured pace.
When we were young, we bought lollies at the milk bar, 10 for five cents or whatever the currency was back then, shared among our friends, or Sunnyboys bought on a hot day to suck and slurp on our way home, our tongues orange and numb by the end of the walk.
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As we grew older, the preferred indulgence might have been a can of Coke, and the walks became confessionals about potential new boyfriends and possible party invites. We shared our longings and our passions and our fears.
What was so wrong with the walk home? Heavy school bags strengthened the muscles and helped prevent future osteoporosis, the quiet companionship of good friends, the chance for a mental wind down after the sometimes rigours of the classroom, and a chance to be in nature and the streetscape of the environment. All these seem good to me.
So, what do school children do now for fun, as mums in their SUVs and their oversized Range Rovers hover at every street corner, lined up like a police guard ready to sweep their children up and carry them away from the dangers of the walk home?
Surely, we are over-protecting our children against largely non-existent phantoms and ruining a perfectly good afternoon’s walk.
Did you always walk to and from school? Was it a pleasure or a chore? What do you think of the army of vehicles that circle schools nowadays?
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