Washington State Nutrition & Physical Activity Plan
Physical Activity Obj. 2:
Priority Recommendation B
Encourage policies that provide students with opportunities for physical activity outside of formal physical education classes

Children move more when schools create opportunities for students to be active several times during the school day.(1,2)

In 2006, 51% of Washington middle and high school principals said their school supports walking or biking to and from school through promotional activities, designated safe routes and bike rack storage.  Almost two-thirds said their schools offered intramural activities or physical activity clubs.

The National Alliance for Nutrition and Physical Activity,(3) the National Academy of Sciences, (4) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (5) promote active school communities where families, schools, community recreation leaders and health care professionals work together to provide opportunities for physical activity outside of formal PE classes such as:

  • daily recess for elementary schools
  • before and after school opportunities;
  • safe routes to school
  • use of school facilities outside of school hours
  • physical activity in classrooms and during school break periods

Walking School Bus

Examples of Activities

Increase opportunities for students to walk or bike to and from school.

Students who walk or bike to school are more likely to meet recommendations for physical activity.(6) However, over the last 35 years, the number of children who live within a mile of school and walk or ride a bike to school has dropped by almost 50 percent. All Washington schools have plans for safe routes to school, but parents are concerned about weather, and safety.(6) In Washington, 28 to 32 percent of middle school and high school students were scared or felt uneasy because of dogs or people in their neighborhood or on the way to school.(7) Communities can address these safety concerns and reduce barriers to walking and biking.

When neighborhoods are safe and full of children walking to school, adults and seniors also walk more. Events that highlight walking to school can lead to lasting changes in neighborhood environments and city policies.

Moses Lake Walk to School Day

More than 500 students from Moses Lake's Garden Heights Elementary School walked to school as part of the Walk to School Pilot Project co-sponsored by Healthy Communities - Moses Lake and Safe Kids Grant County. Families living within walking distance were encouraged to walk with their children. Students who typically rode the bus or were driven to school were dropped off at a nearby middle school. From there, students walked to school along a designated route. Parents, grandparents, and staff lined the walking route and encouraged the students.

Walking School Bus in Skagit County

With the support of Skagit Safe Kids Coalition and a grant from National Safe Kids Coalition, the Mount Vernon Healthy Communities Project Lincoln Elementary Healthy School Project introduced a “walking school bus”. A walking school bus has a "hub and spoke" format. Volunteers meet students at one of three hubs, and then walk along a set route to school, picking up additional students en route.

Develop quality afterschool programs that engage children in physical activity and reinforce lifelong fitness.

Afterschool programs provide places to be active and alternatives to sedentary behaviors. Afterschool programs may be of special benefit to communities with limited recreational facilities and for children living in areas where neighborhood safety concerns are a barrier to outside physical activity.(4) The essential steps toward developing effective afterschool programs are:

  • Establish the vision.
  • Integrate nutrition and physical activity with youth development principles.
  • Provide exciting and meaningful learning experiences that integrate nutrition and physical activity into core activities.
  • Work closely with the community, families and the school as full partners.
  • Develop diversified funding to sustain a quality program over time.

The Center for Collaborative Solutions (CCS) has developed a guide to help school leaders and partners develop high-quality afterschool programs.(8)

Provide funding to enhance physical activity facilities at schools.

Children are more active when they have access to clean and attractive facilities.(9,10) Schools and communities can redesign playgrounds, add bike racks or lockers, install lights in outdoor fields, and build well-equipped playing fields and physical activity centers.

At Van Asselt School in Seattle, the Health Team received a KABOOM grant from Home Depot to revitalize the school's playground. The school is situated next to a community playing field- but this field was run down with outdated and inadequate equipment. During a single day, over 200 Home Depot employees and 100 parents and staff from the school worked to recreate a safe and clean playfield with new play equipment.