Deciding to Let Your Grade Schooler Walk to School

Just got this encouraging post, from a mom who is going to let her grade school daughter walk to school this fall. How did the mom  get comfortable with this idea? Simple! She thought about her ACTUAL NEIGHBORHOOD — not the neighborhoods we see on crime shows and the TV news, crawling with creeps. The one she actually LIVES IN. That’s why one of the Free-Range Babysteps I suggest in my ebydfefzzk
is to turn off the TV and take a walk around the block. Connect with the people there — you’ll feel safer and happier, and so will your kids! Voila:

I was thinking about my daughter who will be walking to school without her brother next fall (he’s going to 6th grade at our local middle school)…and thinking about what I will tell her.  First, the usual a reminder that it’s ok to talk with strangers but don’t go off with them, second it’s ok to be rude and get angry if you are being truly threatened, and third a quick review of people and places she can trust and get help from if necessary.  And as I thought about the third point, I realized what a wonderful place we live in, because there are kind and friendly people we know on each leg of her journey to school! 

 Everyone on our block would support her in an instant, as she turns the corner there is someone to turn to for help every second or third house, we have a terrific crossing guard at the busy intersection, and finally the folks in the drugstore, postoffice, coffee shop, and restaurants are people we know and trust. In short, her whole town is there for her!  And that’s a wonderful thing.  🙂

Sure is! — Lenore

28 Responses to Deciding to Let Your Grade Schooler Walk to School

  1. Allison July 10, 2009 at 12:56 am #

    My husband and I have decided to let our daughter (age 10) walk/ride city bus from her school to my office on a university campus. We plan to vary her plans/route and she’s going to have a lesson in self-defense just to make her more confident in herself that she can fight back if she should need to.

    I talked to two members of the local police department about what types of things they see in the area as well as started really looking at the neighborhood and realized that it’s less than a mile, there are sidewalks and crosswalks along the whole route, and there is a steady (although not excessive) flow of both vehicle and pedestrian traffic in the area.

    Thanks to Free Range Kids for giving me the confidence that she can do this and will be fine.

  2. Alana M July 10, 2009 at 1:15 am #

    My boys started walking together last year. They were in kindergarten and 3rd grade. I let the 3rd grader walk alone but not my kindergartener.

    I have had numerous parents comment that they “just couldn’t let their kid do that”. I ask why? and most need to think a bit before coming up with an answer. The theoritical predator is usually the answer. But most don’t even think of it as a possibility in this day and age – which is just sad.

  3. morninglightmama July 10, 2009 at 1:54 am #

    My almost-9 year old son has been taking the metro bus to his camp this week solo– a 10 minute ride, gets off, crosses two streets and is in the center of the town where the camp is held. Because of the bus schedule, he can either get there 5 minutes late or 20 minutes early… we opted for the early part, and he hangs out on the benches outside, reading a book and thinking his own thoughts. Then he goes in and signs himself in for a fun day at camp. He’d be doing the same on the way home, but the camp won’t let him sign himself out, which is a 9 and up thing, for some reason.

  4. Cricket July 10, 2009 at 3:59 am #

    I just picked up this book at the library today. I love it. It makes sense and I can really see how I’ve let the media make me paranoid. My 8 year old will be in the 3rd grade this fall and his school is two blocks away. I think in the next couple of days, I’m going to take the walk with him and point out places where he can get help if he needs it and then let him go!

  5. Becky July 10, 2009 at 5:32 am #

    I agree with the philosophy of this post – we don’t watch TV and strive to know our neighbors and help our children do the same. Our oldest daughter is only three so decisions about walking in our neighborhood are a ways off, however, thanks to Oregon law we are already aware of a neighbor with a sex crime conviction in his past. What would you suggest in our situation?

  6. elizabeth July 10, 2009 at 7:53 am #

    Becky, do you know what the actual crime was that this neighbor committed? Not everyone on the “sex offenders” registries committed violent crime against another person. If I were you I’d check out what the requirements are in the state of Oregon to get on that registry.

    You can find the definitions of sex crime in Oregon here under section 181.594:

    Note that while there are violent crimes on this list it also includes things like:
    Public indecency
    Sexual misconduct
    Transporting child pornography into the state
    Contributing to the sexual delinquency of a minor
    Sodomy in any degree

    I point these out in particular to show that some (i.e. the last two) could have occurred between two consenting people with extenuating circumstances. Two (the first and second items) are VERY vague and could mean anything depending on the arresting officer and prosecutor. And one item (the middle listed) doesn’t involve contact with a live person.

    I don’t want to get attacked here, so let me be clear, I am not saying these offenses are acceptable.

    I am simply pointing out that there is A LOT of variability around what a “sex crime” is. There is a spectrum that includes horrific violent crime on one end and then there are 18 year old boys who are prosecuted for having consensual sex with their 16 year old girlfriends when the girl’s parents find out.

    Again, you would certainly want to find out as much information as you can about your neighborhood and the risk level in your area. I just wanted to point out that the type of sex crime is relevant too.

  7. elizabeth July 10, 2009 at 7:59 am #

    One other note on sex offender registries…

    I just checked out my zip code online as a test and discovered that in my town of 12,000 people there are 5 people on the sex offender registry. Then I looked more closely and all 5 people are actually the same person with the same address and slightly different spellings on his name. Also, he was born in 1923.

    I’m just saying that investigation gives you more information with which to work. So there’s one offender in my town not five, and he’s 86 years old. That informs the choices that I make.

  8. Jan July 10, 2009 at 8:22 am #
    this little girl is my friend’s friend’s cousin. Too close for my comfort. I won’t be letting my little girl go anywhere.

  9. S.D. July 10, 2009 at 8:39 am #

    My 14 yo son started walking to school at the age of 7. There were allot of other kids walking to school, and there was a crossing guard so I figured, why not? I went over with him the usual instructions about ignoring candy from strangers, YOU’RE NOT MY DADDY/MOMMY kind of scream, etc. His father and I even worked out a password with him so if any of his or my friends come to pick him up, he asks them what the password is. If someone doesn’t know he doesn’t go off, period.

    He loved it and so began his wonderful ascent into responsibility and common sense!

    Granted he’s 14 now so common sense has about flown out the window, but he’s still one of the most responsible young men in our neighborhood! 🙂

  10. Jen July 10, 2009 at 8:58 am #

    Jan: When things like that happen and hit close to home, very very close in this case, it’s more important than ever that we stop and take a look at how safe our kids are, the neighbourhood we live in, and how prepared our kids are to deal with bad situations. Not letting your daughter ‘go anywhere’ isn’t the answer, it will only ramp up the fear that she is already experiencing and destroy any confidence she’s been building.

    Great post, Lenore. Thanks for sharing this story.

  11. knutty knitter July 10, 2009 at 12:31 pm #

    My boys have been getting themselves home from school since they were 5 and 7. I was aiming for 6 and 8 but they learned fast so I let them do it. I simply picked them up a little further away each day and then watched them catch the bus. That was a mile walk down and a 10 minute bus trip and then a 5 minute walk to the house.

    They now go almost anywhere by themselves and know the rules quite well. Next year they will both ride to school several days. I did suggest that the distance was a bit much (8.5 kilometers) for the younger one but he thinks its fine and he gets to ride the first half with his elder brother. He is 11 and I trust him to do the thing properly.

    I think you just have to give them the opportunity and they will go for it.

    viv in nz

  12. kherbert July 10, 2009 at 12:32 pm #


    The man that used to live across the street from me was a convicted child molester. He told the neighbors it was a he was 18 she was 17 type thing* – but the report said the victim was 12.

    I had a then 11 yo niece. I told her that is a bad man – he talks to you – you don’t answer you walk away and to me or another adult. These people (Awesome neighbors in 5 houses near me) are people you can trust. I felt comfortable with her walking my dogs in the neighborhood or hanging out with the kids.

    *We had moved in at the same time so I didn’t get the notice everyone else did. I just saw him on the registry when I was showing a friend how to look at the actual crimes people were convicted of. A few weeks later, I came home one day when the schools here were out and his yard was full of kids. Most of the girls in the 10 – 13 yo age range.

    I called the non-emergency number and told them what was going on. At first I was told oh people under estimate kids ages – but I’m a 5th grade teacher and told them that. They had me give them his address – and they must of ran it because the tone totally changed. I was told a deputy would be out immediately. He came, got contact information from the kids, and sent the kids home. They took him in for a while. Then they contacted the parents told them the crimes this man had committed and let them handle talking to the kids about not playing in this guy’s yard again.

    A parent came over to warn me, because she knew my niece visited. I let her know I was the one that called the cops.

    But you know what I didn’t noticed less kids out playing in the neighborhood. I did notice that they crossed the street and walked on my sidewalk instead of his. The dead end road one block down was still filled with skateboarders. The “green belt” still filled with kids playing football. Playground near the pool full of kids.

  13. Katy July 10, 2009 at 5:11 pm #

    We are required to physically escort our children into the classroom until they’re in the third grade. We can’t drop them off at the curb – we have to walk them into the building and see to it that they are taken by the teacher.

    This can be quite an ordeal when you have a toddler and an infant in tow.

  14. Lola July 10, 2009 at 9:00 pm #

    Fortunately, we found a great school for our children where they actually require us to leave our 5 yo kids and older alone as soon as we enter the grounds. In fact, they encourage us to teach them to cross the street properly ever since they hit 6, so they can get to an exam on time in case some younger sibling refuses to dress themselves in a hurry. Yep, preschool teachers “forbid” us to dress a 3yo up. You can help them buttton their overalls, or strap their shoe on the right foot, but that´s about it.

  15. Dave July 10, 2009 at 10:20 pm #

    I have and interesting dilemma. I live in a great, safe neighborhood. This year my grandchildren have been playing around the corner with firends/ My neighborhood is often used to film Law and Order episodes. Not only do they misrepresent life in this city they misrepresent my great Brooklyn neighbor.

  16. Jen July 10, 2009 at 10:28 pm #

    Katy, I have to say that is ridiculous. Probably one of THE most ridiculous things I’ve read on this blog, and whoa have there been a few doosies.

  17. Uly July 10, 2009 at 11:25 pm #

    You should try telling them, Katy, that you think the presence of so many adults in the school is itself a safety hazard – what if one of them *gasp* had designs on your kid?????

    Gosh, over here they don’t let adults just randomly come into the school. And isn’t crowding the hallway as much as it MUST be a fire hazard anyway?

  18. Hazel July 11, 2009 at 12:37 am #

    I remember walking to my junior school sometimes. Can’t remember when I started (Junior school in the UK – mine anyway – is roughly age 7-11). No idea how far it is, but can’t be more than half a mile.

    Somebody told me how to deal with certain situations – so long ago I can’t remember who but problably my parents. It wasn’t too unusual to be walking home and someone would pull up next to me in a car. Not for any nasty purpose, just asking for directions! I knew enough to stand well back to speak to them and to be prepared to run for it if I had to. I only ran once in the four years I was there, when a man I didn’t like the look of called me “babe” and asked if I would like a ride home. Sometimes I was offered a ride by people who didn’t set off my creep-detectors, but I just politely told them no thank you.

  19. Virginia July 11, 2009 at 1:27 am #

    Katy, that sounds incredibly annoying. At my kids’ elementary school, there’s a “valet drop-off” area where volunteering parents and older kids are stationed to escort 5- and 6-year-olds to their classrooms. I think the original purpose was to help with parking and traffic problems around the school, but it’s also a convenience for parents and kids. Do you think there’s any chance your school administration might be open to setting up something like that, if your PTA sponsored it? If you got enough parents behind it, it could happen. (Of course, with a toddler and an infant as well as a school-age child, I certainly realize you may not have the energy to get behind a crusade right now!)

  20. neener July 11, 2009 at 4:38 am #

    Katy – At my daughter’s elem school, parents are not allowed to walk their children beyond the front doors. The reason we’re given is that it causes disruption by parents going to the classrooms to talk w/teachers, overstaying, bringing smaller sibs along, etc. Made perfect sense to me! Maybe an appeal like that to your child’s school?

    My daughter’s school also has a Safety Patrol program. 3rd graders are nominated by faculty to be on SP in 4th grade – to the kids, it’s a HUGE honor. Parents and kid have to sign an agreement to be at school 30 mins early each day, maintain good behavior/grades, demonstrate responsibility, etc. They wear little orange aprons and open car doors in the car rider drop off line, help the kids out of the cars, hold backpacks, whatever, and wish the parents “have a nice day!” before closing the door. Awesome program. The kids love it, and it makes the drop off line move quickly. Between that and the crossing guards in the parking lot (that connects to our neighborhood) for the walkers, there is really no reason at all for a parent to walk in with their child.

  21. Tray M. July 11, 2009 at 9:28 am #

    Walking to school….absolutely…
    How about these free-range kids? 16-17 year olds sailing around the world alone?
    Read the blogs, totally amazing. This is the epitome of free-ranging!
    How awesome is this?

  22. Lisa July 11, 2009 at 8:00 pm #

    My daughter will start walking to school regularly in September. She’s 7yo, going into 2nd grade. Last year, I usually drove her, occasionally walked with her, and later in the year frequently dropped her off at varying distances from school (to the corner near the school, halfway, just past the busy street which was the primary reason she wasn’t walking the whole way). I’ve watched her safely cross that street, and we’ve talked about what to do if someone tries to offer her a ride. The one time she did attempt to walk the whole way, someone DID offer her a ride – she said she wasn’t allowed, our friend complimented her on being so responsible and offered to call me and ask permission. She’s old enough and more than capable.
    At our school, kids wait outside on the playground until it’s time to go in. They line up by class, and most parents are there waiting with them especially at the younger ages. There is scheduled supervision (basically, a parent assigned to each class) 15 min. before school opens. They don’t stop parents from going in, but most don’t unless there’s a specific reason. I like that we’re allowed on school grounds to wait for the kids to go in… I made a point of going at least every couple of weeks and waiting, not because my daughter needed me there but because that seems to be the time that parents had the opportunity to socialize, get to know each other, trade stories and opinions. Those before and after school moments are part of what builds the school community.

  23. Uly July 11, 2009 at 11:35 pm #

    Yeah, I’m being random again. I’ve got an invitation to Dreamwidth if anybody wants it. Here’s their diversity statement:

    It’s a blogging site that forks off of LiveJournal’s code.

    First comment gets it, and I promise I’ll stay on topic next time!

    Neener, the safety patrol program sounds great, wow. I’m itching to convince my nieces’ school of these things, but I guess I should wait until they have at least some third graders, right?

  24. Uly July 12, 2009 at 12:19 am #

    Must run, and won’t hang around. I really do just want to up the free-range quotient on DW, and besides, all my LJ friends have accounts there anyway who want them.

    Anybody who wants the code can grab it:


  25. Mistress B July 12, 2009 at 4:28 pm #

    When my eldest was in 2nd grade and my middle was starting kinder, the 2nd grader’s teach advised me to let the 2nd grader walk the kindergartener to school. We were only 5 minute walk around the corner, my mum lived across the street from the school and we knew every single on of our neighbours. Was great for the elder one’s sense of responsibility and both their independence!

  26. Uly July 12, 2009 at 8:51 pm #

    “When my eldest was in 2nd grade and my middle was starting kinder, the 2nd grader’s teach advised me to let the 2nd grader walk the kindergartener to school. We were only 5 minute walk around the corner, my mum lived across the street from the school and we knew every single on of our neighbours. Was great for the elder one’s sense of responsibility and both their independence!”

    That’s pretty awesome. I’d love it if my nieces could walk to school alone (because if their dad is running late, THEY are late, which is absurd in a 7 minute walk), I should talk to their parents and the school about it. Even if, say, they ultimately decide not to let Ana walk her younger sister (who at the moment is still three, after all, and will be four for most of the school year) they can still send her ahead.

  27. Crimson Wife July 21, 2009 at 6:35 am #

    You all are lucky that there are folks around during the day while your kids are walking to school. I live in a safe neighborhood, but it’s like a ghost town between 8 & 5. My parents could send me walking off to school by myself starting in kindergarten because virtually every house had a mom around during the day. If I had gotten into trouble, there would’ve been someone right there to help me. I can’t count on that for my own children.

    I’d feel a lot more comfortable about letting my kids have the run of the neighborhood if my neighbors didn’t all work such long hours…

  28. Allison August 13, 2009 at 8:17 pm #

    Just wanted to say thanks again for writing the book. It reassured me that all would be fine with my daughter as she walked/rode the city bus to my office from her school (see my original post on July 10).

    Yesterday, she was the ONLY student out of 500+ at her school that was a walker. Granted, it’s a magnet school for the entire county so many of the kids aren’t within walking distance but those that are don’t walk. I rode the city bus with her yesterday and today she is riding alone (although my husband is going to observe her from the car today to make sure all goes well!).