It’s a Fresh New School Year - Let’s Build the Habit of Walking in Nature

Even as an adult, as soon as August begins to slip into early fall, I can feel the echoes of my childhood back-to-school excitement. It was an optimistic beginning—I could show up and be the best version of myself with a perspective as fresh as my new notebooks. I have the same feeling now, that it’s a good time to review my habits as I soak up the beautiful weather. The new habit I’m trying to form is going for a walk in my neighborhood before starting work from my home office. It sets a great tone for my day and makes me feel more energized…when I actually do it.

For kids and adults alike, now is a great time to develop new, positive habits, like active commutes to school and work, walks throughout the day for fun and nearby errands, and exploring nearby parks, trails, and green spaces. We know that physical activity can improve kids’ attention, academic performance, and executive functions like planning and cognitive flexibility. The same is true for adults as well. A 2023 study found that physical activity that took place before the end of the workday led to higher energy levels at the end of the workday that could allow people to better recover from work and enhance their work-life balance. Being in or near nature on these walks can give us a big boost in health and well-being because nature exposure can positively affect lots of factors like immune system function and mood. For those of us who don’t live near a forest, stream, or otherwise beautiful natural scene, we can still reap the benefits even in urban environments – as long as there are elements of nature (trees, grassy patches or meadows, gardens, etc.) One 2020 study showed that a 30-minute walk in an urban park significantly reduced negative moods compared to a 30-minute walk along a city on a route with no natural elements. If you can incorporate a walk to or through a park into your day, you are getting the benefits of physical activity and exposure to nature – a true double whammy for better health and well-being.

How can we build physical activity and nature into kids’ days?

School and park professionals can work together to build this nature and physical activity combo into kids’ days. For example, some schools use nearby parks as remote drop-off locations to assist children who live too far away or have unsafe routes, reduce traffic congestion at schools during arrival and dismissal, and encourage neighbors to walk and roll together to school. Parks can also serve as excellent alternative locations for schools that may not have space to host recess, sports practices, or other out-of-school activities.

Caregivers can use these nature walks as an opportunity to hang out with kids and ensure the whole family gets the benefits of moving in nature. They can also take the lead to get more kids walking to school by starting a walking school bus even just once a week, a walking group led by an adult that acts like a school bus that takes the same route to school picking kids up along the way. This toolkit can help parents, educators, and community members plan and organize a walking school bus using adult volunteers as leaders.

Plan for International Walk to School Day, October 4. 2023

This is a perfect time to start planning for International Walk to School Day, which takes place on the first Wednesday of October. International Walk to School Day is a day when families across several countries celebrate their active route to school. Walk to School Day can be a fun way to encourage or re-energize children and families to walk and roll to school regularly. It can also be a unique opportunity to celebrate great parks and safe park access. This fact sheet shares ideas for incorporating Safe Routes to Parks elements into Walk to School Day – a win-win for Safe Routes to School and Safe Routes to Parks advocates. This factsheet, Celebrating Walking, Rolling, and Safe Routes to Parks on International Walk to School Day, provides ideas for tying Safe Routes to Parks activities into Walk to School Day events and how to keep up the momentum throughout the year.

Do you have an especially beautiful walk to school? We love seeing photos of where our Safe Routes to School community walks, bikes, and rolls. Send photos to