We were an excited group of fifth graders when we found out our principal was going to be on TV. Our elementary school was located on a very busy street in a city of about 15,000 people and the news story for which he was interviewed questioned whether the single flashing light at the intersection was enough to alert drivers and keep students safe as they crossed the one-way street to get to the school grounds.
I crossed that street four times a day for five years, often with friends. We'd get to the end of the sidewalk, wait for vehicles to stop for us, and cross. The flashing light at the crosswalk wasn't a deterrent to some of the drivers though, who simply sailed through. While little changed while I was still a student there, years later full-fledged traffic lights were installed, which I hope came as a result of continued advocacy and not heartbreaking tragedy.
A new poll by the Canadian Automobile Association found that 64% of us have witnessed dangerous driving practices in school zones including speeding, texting, failing to stop for school busses, and running stop signs. And while issues related to school zone congestion and improper drop-off or pick-up procedures are cited as problematic, most respondents point to drivers who "are in a hurry or are too rushed."
More than 60 drivers in Saskatoon received a back to school lesson complete with hefty fines for school zone infractions day one of the new school year. On day two it was another 84. Regardless of signage, enforcement, and a hit to the pocketbook, the message is not being heeded. It would seem to be an important enough thing to do, so why aren't we slowing down for our children?
For years, parents have been hearing that children are busier than they should be and they need to be on the lookout for detrimental effects; only to then be confronted by analysts saying this idea of the overscheduled child is a myth. Those behaviorists provided a supplementary list of signs to look for to determine if a child needs more challenging activities to take part in.
Not to fear, all kinds of help is out there. Calendars with color coded stickers to keep the whole family organized along with the caveat to keep open spaces open. Phone apps that provide necessary alerts so families arrive at practices, lessons or after school club on time. Charts with various faces of emotion that children can point at to help explain how they feel about various activities. Trackers that determine exactly how many minutes are devoted to each interest as a way of keeping things in balance. And so on and so on.
My children were like most others growing up; taking part in all kinds of activities. I couldn't wait for them to start piano lessons because I was excited to share in their joy. My oldest took to it right away and I was convinced my youngest would eventually come around. It would just take time. I tried endless sessions of encouragement, humor, strictness, and cheerleading and kept my foot to the pedal believing we would turn a corner. Until one day when I slowed down and took time to pay attention. While she had her sports bag packed and by the door eager to go play on soccer days, she dragged her feet when it was time to head to the piano. So we switched gears. She played more soccer, she also discovered a love of singing, and then went on to earn a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, something we never would have pursued had I not gotten out of the way.
Regina Public Schools issued a message explaining that their new 30 km school zone limit will result in quicker reaction time for drivers and add just seconds to the drive. The same holds true outside of those school zones. By easing up and taking a bit of extra time to listen to the children around us we will discover and be able to react helpfully to some pretty fascinating and precious people.
Children will take their cues from us. How we demonstrate interest in their growth, talents, wellbeing and safety, will have enormous impact on them; and just maybe, when we need them to, they will slow down one day for us as well. That's my outlook.