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If you travel through Onchan at the start of your day, look out for a group of primary school pupils and parents winding their way to Onchan School, often accompanied by Kenny, the gorgeous boxer puppy. 

This ‘walking bus’ is led by local resident Emma, and started when she happily agreed to include a neighbouring pupil on her own family’s walk to school. 

It has grown from there; on the morning I was lucky enough to join them, there were thirteen pupils, three parents, one baby, and Kenny on the bus, some meeting at Emma’s house and others tagging on along the way (providing useful stopping points to deal with rogue shoelaces!).

The advantages for pupils

Starting the day in the company of their friends was the top advantage of the walk to school for the pupils, and it was fantastic to see them smiling, laughing and being so upbeat on a fairly dreary Thursday morning; what a positive mood to bring to the classroom each day, come rain or shine.  

That is certainly their motto: ‘we’re not sugar, we don’t dissolve in the rain!’ was the determined stance from the girls, and the boys explained that the environmental benefits from fewer cars driving to school were also important. 

Indeed, engagement with nature was a theme on the journey; stopping to collect and admire fallen blossom petals and to say hello to tiny spiders who had latched on for the ride from the adjacent hedges.

Staying safe

To manage the journey safely, the bus has some well-established rules which all of the pupils were careful to follow, such as:

  • stopping in silence to look and listen for vehicles at road crossings
  • not balancing precariously on the edge of kerbs
  • never going out of sight of Emma on the bends and corners along the way. 

Negotiating the signalised crossing over the main road was also a well-practiced drill, making absolutely certain that the vehicles had stopped for the red light before stepping out.

Balancing commitments

It can be a challenge for parents to manage a walk to school alongside their other commitments, and having flexible working hours is the key for Emma, as well as the support of other parents who can step in to help when needed. 

This is what makes a walking bus such a successful strategy for an active school run; being able to share the time commitment among parents who can achieve the flexibility, while ensuring other families still have an opportunity for their children to walk to school.

The perfect start to the day

We left the pupils at the school gate, or rather they left us; dashing into the school grounds, raring to go for the day ahead!  Their walk to school should see them more alert, motivated and ready to learn, with many additional benefits for their health, independence and connection to the world around them. 

Find out more about the advantages of an active school run in this article by Sustrans here. And why not start some conversations about a walking bus to school in your local area? 

May is National Walking Month, a campaign run by the charity Living Streets, which includes Walk to School Week from 16 – 20 May

This five-day challenge aims to celebrate the benefits of walking for individuals, communities and the planet, and encourage sustainable travel habits for life. 

Can you swap out the school run, and step up to the challenge?  

Find out more on the Active Travel  IOMor Net Zero Isle of Man Facebook pages.


Blog writer: Breeshey Harkin, Active Travel Liaison Officer (schools),  Department of Infrastructure