Spain to Parents: Let Your 6-Year-Olds Walk to School!

Kids age 6 are old enough to walk themselves to school, Spanish officials are telling parents. A seven-community experiment begun there in 2010 has been hailed as a success by researchers who say that allowing first graders to walk without adult supervision “builds their self-confidence.”

According to this piece in The Washington Post by Rick Noack, the experiment was created to counter the pan-European decline in kids getting themselves to school:

Surveys show that the share of German 6-year-olds who walk to school alone declined to 17 percent in 2000 from 91 percent in 1970. Figures from the United Kingdom show a similarly dramatic decline.

Such numbers worry education researchers in Europe who argue that children should be allowed to experiment as much as possible to develop skills from an early age onward. As European countries reconsider they might end up reversing the decades-long decline.

Great! So how does America fit in?

In the United States, such practices would likely be much more controversial. Cases of “free range” parents who allowed their children to play outside without observing them have repeatedly made headlines in recent years. American children spend about 90 percent of their time indoors in their parents’ home, according to a recent study by the University of California.

There’s a statistic for you. Wow. I’m hoping that Europe’s budding bravery will shame us over here, but from the 30 or so comments on the Post piece, the reaction remains mixed:

Well, glory be! Could Europe be dewimpifying? And could North Americans follow?

Vs:

Are they Crazy? Never let small young children alone anywhere!

Still, it’s clear that it’s not just a few of us Free-Rangers feeling that something has gone massively wrong when we don’t trust kids to do the same everyday activities we did at their age. As the Italian psychologist behind the Spanish program told the Post: Letting kids walk alone can be seen as abandonment, but actually it’s love: “I leave you alone because I trust you.”

Trust on!

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Why did we stop letting you do this?

Europe, waking up from its fear-induced coma, wonders: Why did we stop letting kids do this? 

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20 Responses to Spain to Parents: Let Your 6-Year-Olds Walk to School!

  1. mer November 7, 2016 at 9:24 am #

    Juxtaposed with the article on the library policy makes me laugh.

  2. BL November 7, 2016 at 9:28 am #

    When I started kindergarten, kids walked from 8-9 blocks away to get to school. This was a suburb, so there were no rural kids who had to be bussed, but a small number were bussed because they lived on the other side of a four-lane highway. Everyone else walked (or bicycled, there was a bike rack), K-6.

  3. Jessica November 7, 2016 at 10:54 am #

    Good for them!

  4. pentamom November 7, 2016 at 11:00 am #

    BL, this sounds so much like where I grew up! It was the very same situation — everyone in the same small town, but a four-lane highway near the edge of town that cut one small development off from the rest of the zone of that school. So there was one bus out there, and everyone else walked or biked, to the K-5 school. I imagine some K kids were walked by their parents, but many were not. When I was in K, I think my mother walked me at first just in the very beginning, then she found some older neighborhood girls to walk with me in the morning and I walked home in the afternoon alone because it was half day. By 1st grade, I was on my own, and by 3rd, I was the older kid walking with a younger neighbor.

  5. Backroads November 7, 2016 at 11:37 am #

    I had the fortune of growing up within a few blocks with boring streets of the elementary, junior high, and high school. I’m honestly trying to remember ever being taught how to walk to elementary school. I’m certain it must have happened, but I have no memory of an adult showing us. My best guess is an older kid we walked with knew the way, or maybe we had just seen the school enough times.

  6. Crystal November 7, 2016 at 12:41 pm #

    We just lived in England for 3 years. In order to enroll our kids at the local school, we had to SIGN A CONTRACT stating our children under age 10 would not walk A SINGLE STEP ALONE from home to the classroom. And once, when I was puking like crazy with a 104-degree fever, I had the audacity to drop our 7-year-old off at the campus entrance instead of the classroom entrance. Someone saw me, tattled on me and the school sent a sternly-worded letter threatening legal action if I ever “neglected” my child is such a dastardly manner again. Imagine, the nerve of me watching my child walk 30 feet into a classroom instead of escorting him there myself!

    Cue the beginning of my husband and I hating England.

  7. John B. November 7, 2016 at 12:50 pm #

    These European numbers are pathetic, probably as pathetic as the decline here in America of kids walking to school by themselves; however, at least the Europeans are recognizing the negativity of it and trying to do something about it. Unfortunately, I’m not holding my breath for us here in America, the land of the bubble-wrapped kids. Like the one poster wrote, “Are they Crazy? Never let small young children alone anywhere!”

    This seems to be a mindset etched in the American brain, embedded there by politicians and elected officials garnering for votes. “We’ve gotta protect the kids” is their battle-cry along with “Zero tolerance will be shown to sex offenders along with tougher laws”. So naturally in hearing all this political BS, is it a wonder why parents are convinced that the good’ole outdoors is a dangerous place for their kids? Just yesterday, a gentleman running for District Attorney gave me a flyer as he walked thru my neighborhood soliciting for votes and the wording on that flyer featured his “get tough policy” on sex offenders. It’s all about sex offenders and our children! Personally I think our society is tough enough on sex offenders and the facts should back that up but if politicians keep running on the “will get tougher on sex offenders” platform parents are naturally going to think there are perverts running all over their neighborhoods!

    Heck, when I was in Kindergarten back in 1961 I would walk to school by myself. Of course, I only had 2 blocks to walk but today, the schools won’t even allow kids to walk that short of distance to school but make them take the bus instead! Even if there are parents who want their kids to walk to school by themselves, they always seem to lose out to the rules of the school.

    I certainly hope I’m wrong but I don’t see anything changing here in America anytime soon. 🙁

  8. Kirsten November 7, 2016 at 12:51 pm #

    I rode my bike to school starting in second grade (previous school was private and just too far) usually with the kid next door but sometimes alone. It was around five blocks plus a little jog through the woods(!)

    I would have expected Germans to be more independent than this – the 17% figure surprises me. I hope things are starting to turn around.

  9. Jessica November 7, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

    Wow, Crystal, that’s nuts! I’ve heard from several people that England is, if anything, worse than the US on that front, and your story supports that idea for sure.

  10. Dean November 7, 2016 at 3:35 pm #

    Gasp! Was that a knock on my door?
    My neighbor kids appeared at my front door the other day in their school uniforms. They had walked–repeat: walked–almost 1-1/2 miles from school. On a gravel path beside a federal highway. When they got home nobody was there (parents had taken the baby to the doctor). So they came to the door of this aged single man. They must have bee in terrible danger, probably from raiding my refrigerator and playing games on my computer.
    Strange. It has been several days and no nanny state officials have arrived yet.

  11. lollipoplover November 7, 2016 at 4:40 pm #

    “Still, it’s clear that it’s not just a few of us Free-Rangers feeling that something has gone massively wrong when we don’t trust kids to do the same everyday activities we did at their age.”

    Or that the infrastructure around elementary schools is woefully inadequate to allow kids the freedom we enjoyed without all of the cars. I trust my kids. What I don’t trust are the speeding cars and drivers on cellphones that clog the roads around schools trying to get their children to school during a 15 minute drop-off or pick-up window.

    Our kids have been biking in a group since kindergarten. The benefits of this independence go far beyond the exercise. They understand following the weather and being prepared. It’s made them more responsible and aware of their surroundings and secure in their personal safety. My youngest packs her bag, her lunch, and rarely forgets needed items and has her own first aid kit just in case. She knows almost every house and family (including dogs) on the way to school. We are lucky we have dedicated bike paths and walkways that keep the pedestrians and bikers separate from the car traffic. That was my biggest fear…cars. But they have to learn sooner or later not to play in traffic.

  12. Eberhard W. November 8, 2016 at 4:22 am #

    Well. Our daughter is six years old and became a firstgrader this September. Distance to school about one mile. The school encourage to team up “Laufgruppen” with two to five kids. For the first week one of the parents acompanied the group on the way to school (and picked them up after school). After a couple of days everybody was fine and they now organise themselfs. (“Where is Colin?”)

    The kids themself keep track who is supposed to be where and when and if one is missing (“Where is Colin?”) return to one of the parents place and make shure, that everybody is right.

    That’s how we do it in Germany.

    Kind regards
    Eberhard

  13. EricS November 8, 2016 at 11:01 am #

    6 years old. Big city. Walking through “alleyways” and wooded area for shortcut to school. This was completely the norm growing up for me. Yes, we came across odd things. Even odd people. But we all knew how to deal with them. Because we had the experiences. And because in our minds, our parents were trusting us to do the right things (they kept telling us, lol). We didn’t want to disappoint (as best as kids can control themselves). For the important stuff, we did pretty good. The small things, we tended to push the boundaries. It was a good balanced life for kids before this generation. Looking back, even with all the advances in tech and social media, I would never trade my childhood then, for childhood now. Never. 😉 I definitely wouldn’t be the man I am today if I did. And that would be a bad thing.

  14. Katie November 8, 2016 at 1:28 pm #

    Oh how I wish I could move to Europe.

  15. sexhysteria November 9, 2016 at 2:00 am #

    I began walking to school by myself at 5 1/2.

  16. Liesbet Coppens November 9, 2016 at 6:17 am #

    @Kirsten: I think the number is so low because they are talking about 6-year olds. The number will gradually rise with the age of the children. Here in Belgium (next to Germany), I don’t see a lot of first-graders going to school all by themselves. But 8- or 9-year olds: sure! And by 12-13 years old, only the ones living too far away will still be brought by car…

  17. Liesbet Coppens November 9, 2016 at 6:23 am #

    I have a 6-year old at home right now. We ride our bikes to school every day (Belgium). If she wanted, I would allow her to go to school by herself. I know she can do it, and I trust her completely. The problem is: she’s scared. So I push her a little bit, day by day. I tell her to go ahead, that I will follow immediately after. (I have to drive her little brother to school anyway). And she is slowly gaining confidence. We’ll get there. When she’s ready 🙂

  18. Papilio November 9, 2016 at 12:22 pm #

    First of all my condolences for the majority of Americans who didn’t vote for Trump.

    Liesbeth: “@Kirsten: I think the number is so low because they are talking about 6-year olds. The number will gradually rise with the age of the children. Here in Belgium (next to Germany), I don’t see a lot of first-graders going to school all by themselves. But 8- or 9-year olds: sure!”

    I’d say it’s the same here in The Netherlands (next to both Germany and Belgium 🙂 ), though it probably highly depends on the circumstances, of course. Little Brother and I were like 7 and 9 when we started walking by ourselves, first in the lunchbreak and afternoons, later on also in the morning (there was this road we had to cross, with zebra, that got pretty busy in the morning rush hour).

    “And by 12-13 years old, only the ones living too far away will still be brought by car…”

    That would be highly exceptional here, unless the kid has special needs. Kids that old travel to school by themselves, be it on foot, by bike or by PT.
    The only time I’ve ever seen a kid being dropped off at my secondary school, they had a broken leg and couldn’t cycle… I guess that’s sort of special needs 🙂

  19. Carrollmom November 10, 2016 at 8:38 am #

    The ONLY reason my kids do not walk to school? The district has closed so many of the neighborhood schools that there is not one my children could walk to in under an hour (realistically, I would like something within 20 minutes walking distance). I have no problem with my oldest 3 (6, 8,11) walking anywhere they need to be. We live in the city, in a less than desirable neighborhood, (poor somewhat unsafe, but that is for break ins and the like, not taking kids)and my main concern is the little one being hit buy one of the college kids rushing to make the light at the end of the street by the college. But they’d be safe walking. I just do not want to have to get them up at 5 to make it to school on time.

  20. San November 13, 2016 at 8:07 pm #

    Hate bring in the presidential election where, but in the age of Trump I don’t expect this to change. Fear is rising in our society.