Pupils at Cape Clear are getting creative about joining in this month's VicHealth Walk to School program.
Not only are they decorating their own walking shoes with bright colours and eye-catching designs, those who live too far from school to walk there are taking a walk anyway.
Students are meeting at the local post office each morning and walking as a group to school, and those who arrive early at school are encouraged to walk laps of the school grounds and the local recreation reserve - and many other rural schools are taking a similar approach with group walks around their local areas.
Cape Clear is among 13 Ballarat region schools taking part in the Walk to School program. Last year more than 2300 students from nine schools took part, walking, riding and scooting more than 21,000km.
Cape Clear principal Lachlan Day said it was often difficult for rural schools to participate in walk to school initiatives "due to large distances within the local community and the school".
"Children who are active are more likely to develop healthy habits that lead to lifelong health benefits, this is a huge priority for our school and students. It is fantastic to see staff members walking with students each day, modelling a healthy lifestyle," he said.
Within the school curriculum there is discussion about the benefits of walking, riding or scooting as alternatives to travelling by car and the impact this can have on the environment.
In addition to the shoe decorating activity from VicHealth to promote Walk to School month, Cape Clear also received a community grant to provide healthy food options for students who walk to school, and they are part of the Healthy Schools Achievement Program.
But parents in more urbanised parts of the region, along with those across the state, are often hesitant to allow their children to walk independently to school for fear of being judged harshly by other parents.
A VicHealth survey of more than 1700 parents found more than two in five believed other parents would disapprove if they allowed their kids to walk, ride or scoot independently to school, and almost three in five felt it was irresponsible to allow kids to walk to school without adult supervision.
Despite their fears, most parents want their kids to walk to school with 84 per cent believing it's good for kids' health and 78 per cent stating it would help their kids develop independence.
VicHealth chief executive Dr Sandro Demaio said it was important parents felt they could allow their kids to travel to school safely and independently without facing harsh judgement.
"Our message is that you're not a bad parent if you allow your kids to walk to school by themselves. As parents, you're in the best position to judge when your child is ready to walk to school independently.
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"We want to reduce the stigma around parents who allow their kids to walk to school independently and make active travel to and from school a normal part of life again.
"For many parents, taking part in Walk to School is a great step towards reducing their fears. The more families in your area walking to school the safer, and more fun, it'll be for your kids."
VicHealth's Walk to School program runs until November 1.
Top tips for parents
- Set a good example by walking or cycling to local places, including school
- If the walk to school is too far why not park a few blocks from the school and allow your child to walk the rest of the way
- Observe your child's behaviour and independence, and look for signs of readiness
- Help your child become familiar with the local neighbourhood and identify the safest routes
- Practice and reinforce the skills your child needs to travel safely, such as riding a bike and knowing the road rules
- Slowly build independence by letting your child do things gradually. You could start by parking the car a few blocks from school and allowing them to walk the rest by themselves or arrange for them to walk with friends or neighbours
- Make a plan with your child about possible strategies for when things go wrong, such as getting lost, if a stranger approaches them, or if they or their friend gets injured
- Agree on a plan with your child for the transition towards independence, and set milestones and boundaries
- Encourage kids who have built independence to walk to school rather than driving them on the way to work or other destinations
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