There's an exciting new way to get kids on their bikes and on the sidewalks, riding and walking to school -- an innovative program named Boltage.
This generation of kids is struggling with an incredible incidence of obesity. If trends hold, it could be the first generation of Americans who have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
One problem is that kids just don't move enough. When I was a kindergartner, I loved walking to school. There was this feeling of independence and being "grown up" about it. And mine wasn't a short walk for a kid -- it was probably the better part of a mile. (As I recall, I often walked through snowdrifts taller then I was and fought off bears along the way, but that's a story for another post.) The point is that I developed a lifelong habit of walking and biking that I maintain to this day.
In 1969, half of all kids biked or walked to school; today it's less then 15%. One problem isn't the kids, but the parents. When I was a kid, my mom's instructions were to "go have fun" and "be back in time for supper." Parents today have become like helicopters, hovering over their offspring, unwilling to let them face the slightest bit of independent adventure.
Boltage is a piece of technology that can help put parents at ease. It's a chip that can go in a kid's backpack or helmet. When the child crosses in front of a reader at school it sends a message to mom or dad letting them know that their kid has arrived safely. But the system also works as an exercise incentive by keeping track of how much kids walk and bike, letting them know exactly how much they've helped the planet by reducing CO2, and giving them small rewards and recognitions along the way.
The whole idea is really to change behavior in a fundamental way -- to make biking or walking to school cool again, and to create lifelong habits that will be good for children's health and our planet. We could get it started here at a school in Madison for as little as about $5,000. I hope some business, PTO or neighborhood organization might take up the cause next spring with a pilot program.