Families walking to Saluda School in Saluda, North Carolina

International Walk to School Day at Emily Dickenson Elementary School, Bozeman, Montana.

Walking to Putnam Heights Elementary School in Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Encouragement strategies are about having fun — they generate excitement and interest in walking and bicycling. Special events, mileage clubs, contests and ongoing activities all provide ways for parents and children to discover, or re-discover, that walking and bicycling are do-able and a lot of fun.

Encouragement is one of the complementary strategies that safe routes to school (SRTS) programs use to increase the number of children who walk and bicycle to school safely. In particular, encouragement and education strategies are closely intertwined, working together to promote walking and bicycling by rewarding participation and educating children and adults about safety and the benefits of bicycling and walking.

Encouragement activities also play an important role moving the overall SRTS program forward because they build interest and enthusiasm which can buoy support for changes that might require more time and resources, such as constructing a new sidewalk.

In brief, encouragement activities:

  • Can be quick and easy to start.
  • Can be done with little funding.
  • Can be organized by parents, students, teachers or community volunteers.
  • Involve all children, including children with disabilities.
  • Focus on fun and enjoyment.
  • Jumpstart a community’s interest in walking and bicycling.
  • Show quick success and generate enthusiasm for other strategies that may require a greater investment of time and resources.
  • Can foster safe walking, bicycling and physical activity behaviors that will be useful throughout children’s lives.
  • Offer teachable moments to reinforce safe walking and bicycling behaviors.

There are many encouragement strategies that will be described in this section, such as Walk to School Days, when the whole school is invited to take one day off from their usual routine to join in the parade of children walking and bicycling to school. Walking school buses and bicycle trains are organized efforts that group children with adults for safety and for fun while contests help to encourage students to walk or bicycle by offering rewards and recognition.

The ideas described in this section are just a sample of what a community can create. Divided into three categories, each category in this section includes a description; a summary of how to conduct the activity and examples of how real-life communities are "putting it into practice."

Planning encouragement efforts that fit the community

Answering the following questions can help a community plan encouragement activities that are the right size and reach the intended audience. An assessment of school walking routes along with surveys or informal discussions with parents, school personnel and students are ways to gather this information.

  • Is it safe to walk or bicycle to school?
    If conditions are safe for all, encouragement strategies can begin immediately. At any given school there may be one or more routes that are safe for walking and bicycling, while other routes may need improvements. Families that live along safe routes should be encouraged to use them while making safety improvements to the unsafe routes. At the same time, walking activities can be held on school grounds in areas that have unsafe routes to school. Holding a walk before, during or after the school day that takes children around the school campus can help get them excited about more walking and ready to use safe routes once they are in place.
  • Are there children who live near enough to school to walk or bicycle but do not currently do so? If yes, why are they not walking or bicycling?
    Encouragement strategies can help address the barriers. For example, would parents allow their children to walk or bicycle if they were in groups or accompanied by adults?
  • Do many children live too far from school to walk or bicycle?
    Most encouragement strategies can include children that live beyond walking and bicycling distance, such as by establishing park and walk locations so that families can walk part of the trip to school.
  • What is the degree of interest and volunteer involvement?
    This will determine the initial size of the program. Should activities start small or is there enough interest, resources, and staff or volunteers to kick-off a larger effort?

The encouragement activities that are chosen will be influenced by the number of children that are able to walk and bicycle from home and whether there is a desire to include children who live too far or have unsafe routes. For every activity, a plan to measure the impact should be created so that volunteers and partners can find out how their work is making a difference.