International Walk to School Month is an opportunity to reimagine our streets with children at their heart - and envisage the benefits this can bring to people of all ages.

To wrap up a fantastic month, we hear from Naomi Fuller of Playing Out, an organisation where handing our streets over to children is their bread and butter.

Children playing - photo courtesy of Playing Out

Photo © Playing Out

Graphic of parent walking with two children

As International Walk to School Month draws to an end, there are bound to be thousands of children fired up with new enthusiasm for striding (or should that be scampering?) out from their front doors each morning.

It's easy to imagine them on that daily journey to the school gates, coats flapping behind them, eager to set off with the pace and energy that children so naturally show.

And there are so many reasons to support them and their parents and carers to make that active journey: their physical and mental health and wellbeing, the chance they deserve to gain a sense of familiarity and belonging to their neighbourhood, to be visible as pedestrian road users and young citizens, to see their friends and have social time on the way to school.

All of these seem pressing reasons to put children more firmly in the centre of the planning, policy and culture of our streets.

Playing Out

The Playing Out idea - creating street play opportunities by temporarily shutting streets to traffic - came from this same desire to enable children to be more present in their streets and neighbourhoods where they live.

Set up by parents in Bristol in 2009, the idea of organising regular street play sessions for children to play freely and safely and for adult neighbours to meet, mix and build up trust on the street, has taken off nationally.

There are now 468 streets that have played out, across more than 40 local authority areas, meaning that thousands of children and adults are getting used to using their streets differently - sharing them and temporarily changing the entrenched dominance of motorised traffic.

Road closed for a Playing Out event - photo courtesy of Playing Out

Photo © Playing Out

The benefits

Children relish playing safely without being over supervised by carers. They also get the chance to learn the practical skills they need to make other journeys around their neighbourhood; riding a bike, steering their scooter, and also being more aware of different traffic conditions and how to negotiate them.

As one little girl put it, "I like playing in my street because mummy isn't always asking me what I'm doing. That's because she's talking to people instead."

Adults too enjoy a chance to connect with neighbours and often sense a change in the atmosphere on a street.

"I know virtually everyone in the road now. It doesn't feel such a scary place and I am happier to let my children out to play or to call on their friends," was one reflection from a Playing Out street organised in London.

And the positive benefits of using residential street space in a different and shared way are not limited to that few hours when the street is closed to traffic and open for play.

We begin to see what our spaces look like when they are built around us, not our vehicles.

A growing movement

The street play movement is growing in communities both here in the UK and internationally, led by grassroots resident action - first to start dialogue with neighbours and then to make changes on their street.

These can start with small things such as coming together to support children to play safely on the pavements with plenty of adults present to be 'eyes on the street'. It often leads to residents organising regular street play sessions  - once a month, fortnight or even every week for a few hours at a time.

There is more work to do to persuade all local authorities as well as national policy makers of the health and community benefits of supporting playing out. But children's place in the streets where they live is gradually being reframed.

If you are interested in enabling street play to happen where you live do have a look at how to get started and contact Playing Out for support.

Playing Out

International Walk To School Month

"Drop them off near PokeGyms."

"Discounts on school dinners."

"Vehicle exclusion zones."

"No homework!"

This October we asked for smart ideas to get more children walking to school.

Share your smart idea