Walking to school is a wonderful way for students (and sometimes parents!) to get physical activity every day. Students who have expended some energy, and breathed in some early morning fresh air, are more ready to learn. Reducing vehicle traffic around schools is safer for children and improves air quality for all.
What can a school do to increase the number of students choosing active transportation? Make it fun! Show the school community that your school encourages walking! You can do that by having a few dedicated days each year when the school comes together and celebrates active transportation with a Walk to School Day event.
Sometimes known as an “I Walk” event, a Walk to School Day event is a fun and easy way for families to try active transportation for the first time and to celebrate those already walking and wheeling every day.
In order to help you plan your first event, or make an existing event even better, the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority (OSTA), in collaboration with EnviroCentre, has prepared this toolkit. It is free to use and full of ideas, planning tips and tools.
To download a copy of the toolkit please click here
TIP: A Walk To School event can help achieve broader
school priorities such as environmental sustainability
or student health and wellbeing. Use this event to fulfill
a requirement for EcoSchools, a Board Strategic Objective
or curriculum requirements.
You’re on your way! Below is a breakdown of some important planning considerations.
When you fill in the workbook provided the information will automatically create an event plan that is easy to use and share.
It takes a small team of individuals to have a successful Walk to School Day event.
With the information and tools provided, anyone can plan a successful event. Perhaps there is a Teacher or Educational Assistant who is keen to work on this project.
Your School Council might have a few parents determined to create a safer school site. Even some
older students with leadership qualities can assist.
Your community partners might wish to participate in your committee.
Consider asking your School Health Nurse, School Resource Officer, crossing guard, etc. to get involved.
Each organization has different motivations, skills and resources they can bring to the table.
TIP: Getting involved in planning a school
wide event is an excellent opportunity for
teachers aspiring to become Vice-Principals
to develop their management and
Verify your school calendar and select a date. By aligning your date with existing province-wide events, you can leverage the momentum in the media and be part of a bigger movement. People who hear the same message over and over are more likely to change their opinion or behavior, especially when they are trying something new.
Examples of other similar events include:
It’s important to set a rain date, just in case. Keep an eye on the weather leading up to your event, and decide when your school administration would change the date. Your Communication Plan should include how you will inform your school community that the date has changed.
There are many existing names used for Walk to School events. By coming up with your own name, you can brand it with your school logo and culture.
Here are a few examples used here in Ottawa and beyond:
TIP: Run a student event-naming contest as
a way of engaging students and motivating
them to participate.
As you fill in the event planning workbook an event plan will automatically populate on the last tab
(Event Plan), and will help flag when tasks need to be initiated and completed.
From materials to create interesting signage, balloons to draw attention, giveaways to reinforce the message, cones to help with safety, and so on, there may be some costs for your event. Aside from using your school budget, there are other ways to fund your event:
Here is a list of potential items you might consider including in your budget. The workbook allows you to add lines as required:
TOOL: The OSTA Pitter Patter Grant is
a micro-grant of up to $250, available to
schools who wish to implement or support
a School Active Transportation Initiative
during the current school year in which
the application is made. Click here to apply
TIP: Your community partners may have
giveaways to share. Ask your School Health
Nurse, Resource Officer, and OSTA for support.
Consider the environment when choosing
giveaways. Low/no waste options are always
As educators, you know that students learn in a variety of ways. Supplementing the actual walk to school with
other outdoor activities immediately after the initial effort reinforces the message that walking to school is
the best way to get there.
Not all students will be able to walk to school. By adding activities on school grounds, everyone will feel
included and be given the opportunity to take part.
This also gets everyone thinking about the benefits of walking (to school, to the park, to a friend’s house,
Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Most Walk to School Day events take place on the school site, with some consideration for a two-block radius around the school. A site plan allows you to identify key areas for the event, and important safety considerations.
Every school site is different, but most typically, you need to think about:
TOOL: Click here for instructions on how to use Google Maps and Microsoft Paint to create a customized site plan. Once completed, the site plan will be easy to print and share with staff and volunteers to ensure that everyone knows what is happening where.
MITIGATE RISK: Changing traffic patterns around your school, even for just one day, will take careful planning. Mitigate risk and increase safety by identifying any areas of concern early on and planning for ways to address them. Check out OSTA’s Walk Routes to School maps for your school’s Walk Zone. It shows Crossing Guard locations, hazard areas and other safety elements you can include on your Site Plan.
MITIGATE RISK: Let you Board Facilities Department know about your event. They can notify you of any conflicts (like construction) that might impact your event.
Plan an event so that all students, even those who arrive by bus or van, can participate. Everyone will want to take part and there are easy ways to plan activities so that all students will benefit from some exercise and feel included (see section above on ideas for outdoor activities). It is also important to consider how students of all abilities can participate. Here are a few suggestions and considerations:
Your school board will have other ideas and considerations for ensuring your event is inclusive. Be sure to tap into those resources.
Is there traffic chaos around your school during the morning and afternoon bell times?
An effective way to make school zones safer by reducing traffic is to encourage families to park away from the school and walk the last block or two. This is commonly known as Walk-a-Block or Drive-to-Five.
A Walk-a-Block flyer is a tool for parents that identifies the five-minute walk radius around the school. Some schools establish formal Walk-a-Block locations by identifying a nearby parking lot that is not being used during the morning drop off period (for example: a church, community centre, library or business).
Click here for a few examples in Ottawa
TOOL: Click here for detailed instructions
on how to use Google Maps to create your
own customized Walk-a-Block map.
TOOL: Use this template (here) to make it
easier to develop your own Walk-a-Block map.
The template includes sample text, messaging
and ideas for encouraging parents to consider
These partners will usually need to understand:
Here are some partners you might consider:
TIP: Community Partners like to contribute
money, items or in-kind services to events and organizations whose goals align with their own. Finding out what the organization stands for ahead of time, and showing how your event supports their ideals, vision or strategy, increases your chances they will get on board.
TIP: Having Phyz at your event is easy! Your school health nurse will book the mascot, have it delivered, and accompany it the day of the event. You will need a volunteer (teacher or parent) who will wear it. The Phyz mascot costume can get very warm inside, and glasses-wearers may fog up! Make sure your volunteer is aware of these considerations.
If you have a team member who is experienced with social media and promoting events hopefully they can
help with this important task. If not, no worries! This toolkit provides a timeline for different types of
messaging and sample text to promote the event and engage partners and the school community. Someone
should be specifically assigned to the communications role, including on the day of the event.
MITIGATE RISK: It’s important that the
designated communications person is aware
of any sensitive issues, like student media releases.
TIP: Start promoting your event early and
repeatedly so the message stays top of mind.
TOOL: We’ve created multiple attention-grabbing
social media messages that you can customize.
Each school has dedicated channels for reaching their community. They include:
MITIGATE RISK: Letting parents/guardians and
students know what to expect, and where to go
ahead of time, will help them navigate their
way to school. We want everyone to have a safe
and enjoyable walk to school so they’ll try it
again on their own.
Communicate, communicate, communicate!
TIP: Pick a theme based on what matters
most to your school community; Does your
school focus more on academic success?
Does your school have environmental goals?
TOOL: Choose from one of the many
pre-written social media messages
social media messages based on what your
school’s goal or vision is.
Here are some examples of places to post your event, or ways to generate awareness of the upcoming event:
TOOL: Use this customizable invitation
that you can send to your Trustee,
community partners, City Councillors, etc.
TIP: Know your audience! Choose a messaging
tone that speaks to your community: Serious and
factual for parents who like statistics or fun and
inviting but still pushes an underlying goal;
sense of urgency for schools that have specific issues
or neutral for a broader demographic.
As the event gets closer, engage students and start building excitement and school spirit!
TIP: A poster contest is a great way to
get students involved in promoting
Walk to School Day! Invite them to
create signs, posters, or banners about
why they like walking or wheeling.
TIP: Existing student clubs like a Green
Team, Eco Club or School Active
Transportation Club, are already thinking
and living the message. Engaging them
is an opportunity for them to show
leadership and influence their peers.
The final promotional push is important for generating awareness and excitement about your event. Here are some opportunities to consider:
TOOL: Conduct classroom surveys
so you have baseline information to
compare the event data to. Data
helps quantify results and can be fun
to use in math class to connect activities
to curriculum. Here is a link to a sample
Hands-Up Survey data collection form.
TIP: Putting up signs in your neighbourhood
also means taking them down after the event.
Please be a responsible and environmentally
Here are a few things to think about on the days leading up to your event:
MITIGATE RISK: Let your bus/van drivers
know that your event may change traffic
patterns and that there will be more
pedestrians than usual.
While the event is taking place, share your event on social media to demonstrate success and inspire other schools to try it, too. It’s also important that on site communication happens at the beginning so everyone knows what to do and what their role is in running a fun, safe, inclusive event. Here are a few things to consider:
MITIGATE RISK: Candid shots are always
fun to look at, but be mindful of which
students may have their pictures taken
and distributed. Student privacy and
protection are a priority. Setting up
some shots with “authorized students”
might fill the gap.
TIP: You can amplify your message by
“tagging” other organizations that
have similar interests.
@OttSchoolBus Ottawa Student Transportation Authority cares about all mobility options for students.
@EnviroCentre EnviroCentre delivers Student Active Transportation Planning Program to schools across the city.
@Ottawahealth Your Ottawa Public Health School Health Nurse is an important partner.
@OCDSB or @OCSB Your School Board Communications Department will gladly share your event.
@ (enter trustee or city councillor handle) Find out your elected officials’ handles. They will be happy to share your event, and may even join you if possible.
A “hashtag” allows followers to link up conversations through a common topic. In Ottawa, we use:
#GetYourWalkOn #OttWalk2School #ottmarcheàlécole
Say thank you to your community, students, parents, partners, and elected officials by posting a thank you note. Here are some ideas:
TOOL: We have created a customizable certificate of participation.
Just use mail merge with student names, and fill in your school’s information.
Connect active transportation to classroom learning!
There are so many curriculum-based teaching lessons out there that engage students before, during and after the event
Graphing Active Transportation in our Classroom Description: In this activity, small groups of students will work with two sets of data to create double bar graphs and present graphs to the class. Students will study trends and compare data between grades and with the entire school.
Click here for full activity, including curriculum links, materials, tally sheets and instructions.
Road Safety Bingo
Description: Students will learn to identify common traffic signs found in their community and reinforce their understanding through a game of Active Traffic Sign Bingo!
Click here for a full activity including curriculum links, materials, images and instructions.
Walking Your Way to Safety
Description: Students will learn and practice pedestrian safety rules through in-class discussions and a supervised group walk through their neighbourhood.
Click here for the full activity, including curriculum links, materials, and instructions.
A culture change doesn’t happen in a day.
Measuring the gradual change can help build momentum and challenges the participants to do even more the next time. Students like goals and being recognized and rewarded for reaching their goals. So do their parents/guardians.
Conducting the classroom “student hands-up” survey a week or two BEFORE the event, sets the tone and introduces the idea of data collection, goal-setting and monitoring change to students.
Doing the same student hands-up survey THE DAY OF the event can be used as a learning opportunity on data-management, analysis and measuring goals.
How many students actually participated in the event? Did we reach our goal? The same hands-up survey can be done AFTER the event (week/month later) to see how many students continued to walk to school.
TIP: What is a great reward for students?
Taping their Principal or VP to a wall, giving
them a pie in the face or doing an ice-bucket
challenge! Set a goal for participation in your
school and if the students achieve it, be
prepared for some messy, silly fun.
TIP: Engage senior students to analyze
the data. They can turn this opportunity
into a real life data management project
and share the results with the school at
an assembly or during morning announcements.
Your school community loves setting goals.
They like knowing if they’ve achieved them even more!
Here are some ideas and for ways of collating and analyzing the data:
TIP: Include event results in your next
newsletter and Facebook post to highlight
the positive impact they had. If students
came up with ideas/recommendations,
and goals for next time, include those too. Investing time and effort in your walk to school day event is a meaningful way to help families discover the many benefits of walking to school.
A school community event like this helps people take the first step towards incorporating active transportation into their daily routine. Trying something new with a little fun and encouragement can go a long way to change how parents/guardians decide to get their kids to school.
We hope this toolkit will make planning easier, and spark ideas for your event. Happy Walking!
This toolkit was developed by the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority, in collaboration with EnviroCentre. We would like to acknowledge the support and contribution of the following partners and community members: