Put Your Best Foot Forward: 9 Steps to Start a School Walking Club

Many children today don’t get the exercise they should. According to Let’s Move!, an initiative launched in 2010 by former First Lady Michelle Obama to help solve the problem of childhood obesity, only six out of 50 states require physical education in every grade, only 20 percent of school districts require daily recess, and only one in every three children gets exercise every day. Health experts recommend that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily. A walking club is a great and fun opportunity to help children reach this goal. Forming a club is an easy and worthwhile venture. Use the tips and information in these pages to get your school’s walking club moving!

Why Create a Walking Club?

A walking club promotes exercise, which is critical in combating the rising rates of childhood obesity in the United States. Children who are overweight are more likely to grow up to be overweight and suffer from diabetes and obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma. Introducing a walking club at your school is an easy way to get students thinking about physical fitness, increase the amount of activity they get, and help them stay fit and healthy.

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What Are the Benefits of Walking?

Regular physical activity, including walking, helps students succeed in school and in life. Being active has been shown to:

  • Increase concentration and focus
  • Improve classroom attendance and behavior
  • Raise academic performance
  • Boost energy
  • Improve mood
  • Relieve stress
  • Prevent weight gain
  • Strengthen bones

Step 1: Pick a Name for the Club

Choosing a fun and catchy name for your club will attract more student participants. Be sure to tie in something related to walking. Here are some examples.

  • Fun Feet Club
  • Happy Feet Club
  • Making Strides Club
  • Super Steppers Club
  • On The Right Track Club
  • Right Foot Futures
  • Walking Book Club
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Step 2: Organize and Plan

Having a walking club isn’t difficult, but it does require some organization. Use this checklist to help you get started.

  • Determine which teachers or staff members will coordinate and supervise the walking club. It’s best to have at least two adults in charge, just in case one person is absent. Don’t hesitate to reach out to parent volunteers either. And remember that the more children in the club, the more adults you’ll need.
  • Figure out when and how often your club will meet. Some walking clubs meet every morning before school and others meet several times a week after school. Find out what works best for your students, staff, and parents.
  • Advertise the walking club to students. Talk about it on the morning announcements, add a notice to the school newsletter and website, and encourage physical education teachers and the school nurse to promote the club.
  • Have interested students’ parents sign a permission slip. Include on the form what students will need to participate, such as a water bottle and good walking shoes. Make sure you let parents know they can participate, too!
  • Map out a route for your walking club. Will you stay on school property or walk through the neighborhood? Also, have a plan for where to walk if the weather is bad.

Step 3: Set Fun and Rewarding Goals

Developing goals for students to reach will keep your walking club interesting and challenging. Choose smaller, daily or weekly goals or bigger monthly or yearly goals, such as walking from Maine to Florida or from the East Coast to the West Coast of the United States! (Of course, this will take some creative math. Read on for more information.)

Together keep track of the steps students take to reach their goals. Create a tracking log or poster where you can record the distance they cover each time the club meets. (See the log below as an example.) Remind students of their goals before each walk and use words of encouragement to get them excited and ready to go!

Start a Walking Club!
Start a Walking Club!

Step 4: Fuel Up with Healthy Snacks and Drinks

Being a healthy kid doesn’t just mean exercising every day, it means eating well, too. Promote healthy eating habits during walking clubs and keep students’ energy up with yummy, healthy snacks and drinks. Water and nonfat or low-fat milk are the best choices for beverages. Some great options for snacks are:

  • Almonds
  • Apples, Bananas, Oranges, Peaches
  • Low-fat string cheese
  • Whole-wheat pretzels
  • Carrot and celery sticks
  • Low-fat fruit yogurt

Step 5: Add Challenges and Changes to Your Walking Routine

In addition to setting goals, plan different themes and events to keep your walking club interesting for participants. Try these suggestions:

  • Chart a different course. Add some obstacles to your normal walking route. Have students weave in and out of cones, jump across fake moats, or add short sprints to their normal walks.
  • Eat on the run (or walk). Plan a walk in a local park and bring some blankets and healthy snacks and drinks with you. After students get their walking in, lay out the blankets, and take time to sit and enjoy a picnic outside.
  • Add a little activity. Challenge students to do more than walk during part of their walking club time. On Fridays, have “Skip to Saturday” and ask kids to skip instead of walk for at least five minutes.
  • Make a community connection. Take walkers out of the schoolyard and into the community. Point out different businesses and talk about the work they do.
  • Hunt for treasure. One Tuesday a month, have “Treasure Hunt Tuesday.” Hide walking club incentives in the schoolyard, create a map to give to students, and let them find their treasure.
  • Put safety first. Use walking club as a time to go over traffic safety. As you walk through the neighborhood, discuss the pedestrian safety tips you’ll find in Step 9 below.

Step 6: Promote Your Walking Club

The more members of your walking club the better, so have your walkers encourage their fellow students to join. Give them the time and the materials necessary to create banners or flags that they can carry while walking. Also, get permission from the principal to hang walking club posters throughout the school.

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Step 7: Put Education on the Agenda

Walking club can be about more than getting exercise, it can be an opportunity to educate children as well. Do what you can to combine classroom curriculum with your walking club. If possible, work with teachers to determine ways to do so. Try these examples:

Social Studies and Math

Merge these two subjects and aim for a goal of walking (symbolically) across America or a foreign country, across your state, or from one landmark to another. Figure out how many miles it would take to get from the start to the finish and what you would pass along the way (e.g., a lake, a historical landmark, other towns). Then have students use math to determine how long it would take to get from Point A to Point B.

For most it’s not feasible to “walk across America” or to match the actual steps needed to cover a long distance, so be creative with measurements. For example:

  • One lap of walking might equal a mile on the map
  • One mile of walking might equal five miles on the map
  • Five minutes walked could equal 50 miles or 100 miles

Science

If the weather’s good and your walkers can be outside in nature, have them observe the natural world around them. Make a list of things you want children to look for. Ask them to keep track of the plants, animals, and other natural wonders they find and write down the characteristics of each. Here are some things you can put on your list:

  • Birds
  • Leaves
  • Insects
  • Rocks
  • Clouds
  • Trees
  • Flowers

Step 8: Warm Up and Stretch Before Walking

Walking is an easy, low-impact way to get exercise, but it’s still important to warm up and stretch before getting moving. Spend at least five minutes warming up and stretching at the beginning of walking club. Everyone should stretch at the end of walking club as well.

Ways to Warm Up and Stretch

Doing jumping jacks and marching in place are good ways for children to warm up before their walk. It’s important to warm up for a few minutes before stretching. Stretching when muscles are not warmed up can cause injury. Try these simple stretches:

  • Calf Stretch - Step out with your left foot, keeping your right leg behind you. Bend your left knee slightly. It should stay in line with your left foot. Place your hands on your left thigh for support. Keep your back straight and lean forward slightly. You should feel a stretch in your right calf muscle. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds then repeat it on your other side.
  • Quadriceps Stretch - Stand up straight. Place your feet hip distance apart and point your toes forward. Bend your left leg at the knee and bring it up behind you. Hold your left foot with your left hand. Feel the stretch in your thigh. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds. Then repeat it with your other leg.
  • Hamstring Stretch - Sit with your left leg straight. Bend your right knee and place the bottom of your right foot on the side of your left knee. Your right knee should touch the ground. Keep your back straight, lean forward, and try to grab your left foot. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds and then repeat it on your other side.
  • Arms and Shoulders Stretch - Stand up tall with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly. Place your right arm across the front of your chest, parallel to the ground. Bend your left arm up and use it to hold your right arm closer to your chest. You should feel a pull in your right shoulder. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds. Repeat the stretch with your other arm.

Step 9: Stay Safe

Take time during walking club to talk about pedestrian safety rules, even if your walking club route doesn’t leave school property. Remind students to:

  • Cross the street at the corner or use a crosswalk.
  • Look left, right, and then left again before crossing the street.
  • Obey all traffic signals.
  • Walk on a sidewalk. If there isn’t one, walk on the far left side of the street facing oncoming traffic.
  • Cross in front of a bus only when the driver says it’s safe. Stay out of the “Danger Zone,” where the bus driver can’t see you.
  • Ask an adult for help if a pet, toy, or other item goes into the street.
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