Children’s perspectives on neighbourhood barriers and enablers to active school travel: A participatory mapping study

This research uses innovative participatory mapping and qualitative GIS methods to examine how children’s perceptions of their environments influence their school journey experiences. We conducted 25 map-based focus groups during Geography Awareness Week, an annual geography education and public awareness program, in November 2016. This child-centred research approach aims to contribute to the existing evidence informing solutions that make environments more supportive of children’s active school travel, while engaging children about issues that matter to them. This research was completed at one suburban school and one urban school to explore how diverse neighbourhoods might have different influences on children’s school journeys. Our analysis was completed using a thematic analytic approach which identified three main themes: safety-related features, material features, and affective features. The themes identified demonstrate that children experience’s on their journey to and from school are multi-layered and have multiple meanings. By positioning children as experts of their environments in our participatory methodology, our findings provide an important counterpoint to the adultist privilege characterizing the majority of research on children’s active school travel. Furthermore, findings show there is general overlap of the features students discussed from both urban and suburban areas, environmental features took on multiple meanings, and the importance of engaging children in the research process. This paper was written by HEALab researchers Katherine Wilson (lead author),  Dr. Stephanie E. Coen (Post-Doctoral Associate), Angela Piaskoski (Master’s Student) and Dr. Jason Gilliland (principal investigator and senior author).

This research would not have been possible without the immense support from local community stakeholders and volunteers who gave up a large amount of their time to participate in this participatory research process. As well, we would like to thank the teachers who allowed us into their classrooms to engage with their students and of course all of the students who provided us with so much insightful information about their environments! Support for trainees on this project was generously provided by the Children’s Health Foundation and Children’s Health Research Institute.

“Children’s perspectives on neighbourhood barriers and enablers to active school travel: A participatory mapping study” is published in The Canadian Geographer.

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Keywords: active school travel, children, participatory research, qualitative GIS, physical activity

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