First Lady Endorses Walking to School (But…)

Readers — Walking to school is a lovely, age-old, generally safe activity that has been almost abandoned over the last generation. Today, only about one child in 1o still walks to school, in part because some new schools have been built on the outskirts of town, in part because some neighborhoods are so car-centric there is no decent on-foot route to school, but also in great part because parents have been warned every which way that their kids are never safe doing anything outside on their own. (See my last million posts.)

Enter Michelle Obama, who dearly wishes kids would start moving again. Recently, bzsydfdefz
she endorsed the idea of the “Walking School Bus,”
which is a bunch of kids walking together, picking up kids along the way (like a bus),  along with an adult chaperon.

The idea of kids walking is wonderful, of course. But the idea that this is such a dangerous activity that it requires ongoing chaperoning is troubling. I’m sure Michelle couldn’t come out and endorse kids just walking on their own, because in some neighborhoods that’s truly dangerous and she is First Lady for the whole country.

Getting Kids Moving?

However, in promoting the idea that even a group of kids walking together needs an adult, she  inadvertently perpetuates the problem of kids not moving. Here’s what the Walking School Bus site says about adult oversight:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend one adult for every six children. If children are age 10 or older, fewer adults may be needed. If children are ages 4 to 6, one adult per three children is recommended.

Really — even a group of 10 year olds needs an adult with them? That’s your problem right there. And the 1:3 ratio for younger kids makes walking to school sound like signing your kid up for scuba lessons.

We are turning walking to school into an adult-intensive project.

If parents are told kids can only be “safe” outside with a guardian watching over them, what are the chances that they will send their kids outside after school to the play? They won’t. Kids will end up inside. No parent has hours and hours after school — and whole days free on weekends — to stand outside and supervise.

Just the other night I went walking in our apartment building’s courtyard and spied a little girl going round and round on her scooter.

Well, actually I spied her go round and round twice. Then it was time to go in. Her dad, who was watching her (despite no public access to the courtyard and no cars) was ready to go inside. He was done watching, so she was done scootering.

Hands down, a walking school bus beats a parade of cars dropping the kids off at school. I’m glad Michelle brought  that issue to national attention and props to her. But will it get kids back to moving, as in running, jumping and playing any other time of day?


Alas, no. – L.


Apex, NC

Picture from


73 Responses to First Lady Endorses Walking to School (But…)

  1. QuicoT August 8, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    I wrote you about this a couple of years ago: my wife is from Japan, and she tells me the Walking School Bus concept is almost universal there. There is no adult chaperon – the oldest kid is the bus “Driver” with the second-oldest bringing up the rear.

    Schools organize shop-owners and stay-at-home moms along the bus-route to act as safe places to go if something goes wrong. The bus “driver” and his co-pilot in the rear are trained to know which houses and shops they can go to if there’s a problem.

    Best yet – and most mind-blowing from a U.S. point of view – many Japanese schools will *NOT* allow kids to be driven to school. In effect, the Walking School Bus is mandatory in many schools.

  2. Forsythia August 8, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    I’ve led some of these – they make sense in areas where things are close together, but there are major roadways where the adults can’t behave themselves to even stop for school buses or crosswalks. Also, some younger kids – like kindergarten – are better off in groups.

    The ultimate goal should be to get kids to independently walk, of course.

  3. JJ August 8, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    QuicoT, what you describe sounds great for many reasons not the least of which is for the fun and comradery.

  4. Warren August 8, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    As with most endorsements by pubic figures they go only as far as their cya public relations reps allow them.

    The CDC is making parental supervision guidelines to cover their own butts.

    On the other hand this is a good step forward.

  5. Puzzled August 8, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    I’m sorry, but I can’t fully agree here. I absolutely agree with kids walking unsupervised, but I disagree with the advocacy for kids walking to school. I would hope that, given the ability to walk by themselves, kids would walk as fast as they can in the opposite direction, and stay away from that dungeon of miseducation and maltreatment. If kids really will walk to school by themselves, they are suffering from some sort of Stockholm-like problem.

    I’m being a little tongue in cheek, of course, but really – why make them walk with such a lousy goal? They’d learn more if they spent all day walking around and never went to school.

    If they’re going to school, maybe they should be driven or chaperoned, so that they associate schooling with micromanagement, over control, lack of independence, and having things done for them.

  6. Denise Schipani August 8, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    In September, my older boy heads to sixth grade, and for the first time (and the only possible time in his school career, b/c he only goes to this building for one year), he can walk. He’s actually entitled to a bus because if you drive, it’s JUST a quarter mile, which is the limit for bus service in the district. But it’s up the street, around a corner to another slightly busier road WITH A SIDEWALK, then a few blocks to the street the school’s on. Or, he can go the opposite way and cut through a church parking lot. I am thrilled. HE is thrilled.

    A few weeks ago, I talked to a neighbor whose daughter was at this school last year. She said, “Oh, Abby was so excited to walk to school and it was such a nice bit of independence for her.” Then she proceeded to tell me how she or her husband would walk Abby to the corner, where they’d make eye contact with a dad who’d walked his daughter to the next corner. He would accompany them the next block, where another parent would add a kid and eyeball them another block and…


    I’m sending my boy WITH HIS NEW HOUSE KEY off on his own, or with whatever other kids that are in his grade and are walking, with pleasure. His and mine!

  7. Michelle G August 8, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    I guess we had a walking school bus in our neighborhood, we just didn’t call it that, and we didn’t plan it, it just happened. The furthest kid from school would start walking and all the kids in the neighborhood joined as he passed their house. No adult present, no issues (that I know of). My kids learned to get themselves wherever they are going at an early age.

  8. Gary August 8, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    “They’d learn more if they spent all day walking around and never went to school.”

    I cannot wait to give my kids a compass and a K-Bar and say “see you at dinner.”

  9. marie August 8, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    Walking is no longer a way to get from point A to point B. It has become a DUTY and it must be performed properly. Weight loss and fitness are the only acceptable reasons to walk and we are responsible for maintaining the proper weight and fitness level. Otherwise, we deserve Edward Snowden’s treatment.

    No shenanigans, please, while. walking. This is serious business.

  10. Natalie August 8, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    Why is the CDC making a recommendation at all?

    Geese. Everyone’s an expert on parenting.

  11. Stephanie August 8, 2013 at 11:27 am #

    To be fair, there are some neighborhoods where this might be a good idea. The neighborhood where I teach tends to have police chases and stray bullets. I can understand why many of my families (most are refugees who are already skittish from trauma) are nervous there. A walking school bus could change the tide: resocialize people to expect walking, and build a stronger community – it could eventually lead to more free-range activities.

  12. Gary August 8, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    “No shenanigans, please, while. walking. This is serious business.”

    Oh yeah??!!??

    says who?

    Not Katrina!!!

  13. Earth.W August 8, 2013 at 11:35 am #

    Up until where we live now, our youngest three children walked to school together but without parents to and from school at the two most previous addresses. Now we’re extremely close to the school so they get to go as they please but they do miss their longer walks.

  14. marie August 8, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    To be fair, there are some neighborhoods where this might be a good idea.

    Yep. And I’d bet the parents don’t need the CDC to tell them so.

  15. Loreen August 8, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    I walked to school by myself as a kid in Tokyo but I have to say that it is an illusion that kids in Japan are sent off on their own because there is such a sense of communal responsibilityl. You can identify kids by their school uniform and if anyone saw a kid doing something “dangerous” like walking with their hands in their pockets, the school would get a call about it. Unfortunately for me, I was easy to identify as the only blond in a Japanese school so I would get a letter sent home to my parents. So in actual fact, I had a lot of chaperones. All the adults in the neighborhood looked out for me. When I got lost coming home from a friends house, the neighbors and my teachers basically put out a dragnet for me and I was located in an hour. In Tokyo, which is a huge city. It is just too bad that in the US we don’t have that sense of community and feel the need to assign chaperones. But as I said, kids who walk to school in other countries aren’t really on their own out there.

  16. Ravana August 8, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    @QuincoT Do they still have the crossing flags at intersections in Japan? I know they used to have them so that when a group of school kids came to a busy intersection any random adult who was going the same direction would grab a flag and escort them across the street. Then leave the flag on the other side for return trippers. Thought it was such a clever idea.

  17. Selby August 8, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    The Center for Disease Control?! Is walking a disease?

  18. Emily August 8, 2013 at 11:56 am #

    >>Why is the CDC making a recommendation at all? Geese. Everyone’s an expert on parenting.<<

    I know, right? What "disease" are kids at risk for, from walking to school? When I think of the Centre for Disease Control, I think of kids wearing their Purell lanyards to school, which is overkill as well, but it has nothing to do with the issue at hand.

  19. Alisa August 8, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    We lived in New Zealand where walking school bus was the norm for young children. It was great. The NZ transportation site has a link on how to set up a walking school bus….
    It says that 5-8 year olds are most likely to use the school bus as older children are fine on their own. It also says nothing about ratios.

    I love the idea of older children being the driver and rear as in Japan.

  20. Kristy Hill August 8, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    I’m from Canada. My son is only 4 years old and hasn’t started school yet, but I’ve already made the decision that by grade one, I will allow him to walk to school by himself. Because we live in a townhouse complex and he plays on the road way all the time he’s super road-savvy. I would even consider it for Kindergarten, but I figure a year of walking with him and showing him how it’s important to be on time and go the same route, he’ll be totally ready in grade 1.

    When I tell other parents this, they are always floored. I’m trying to prepare myself for being the only parent who does it and probably viewed as neglectful. The only hesitation I have is, will I miss out on the socializing I could do with parents I would meet at the school when I walk him in? I don’t want to be the odd one out either. My friend with older kids said she wanted them to walk themselves, and when I told her my plan, she said, “You’ll change your mind. Because you’ll want to fit in with everyone else.” I’m frustrated by this already!!!

  21. Hels August 8, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    When I was growing up, there was no organized way of getting to or from school. Between the ages of 6 and 8, I walked to our neighborhood school – it was a five minute walk with only one small street to cross. We never teamed up for the walk to class, but we always went home in a big gaggle and usually stopped to play on the way home… When I was 9, I started taking the city bus (then changing to tram) to go to school in the downtown area (I lived on the very outskirts of a major city). Sometimes it would so happen that a classmate who lived a couple stops down from me would be on the same bus, but not often. Usually, we all arrived to school piecemeal (and only one was driven by her Mom, everyone else got there on their own) and all of us going the same route left together… sometimes stopping at a local pastry shop along the way. Often we would choose to walk part of the way (or sometimes the whole way – about 4 miles to my home) just for the heck of it and to window shop at the stores along the way if the weather was nice… The only times I remember being supervised was when we were in second grade and were taken to a city pool (our school did not have one) for swimming lessons. There was one teacher and 33 of us. No one ever got lost or hurt in any way…

  22. Havva August 8, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

    The CDC is out of line with their recommendations and probably the main problem here. Perhaps we could campaign to get Michell Obama to press them to reconsider. And if she wants an example she can point them to Fairfax county (just south of DC).

    Their 2013-2014 handbook is out:

    And it states: “Younger walkers are encouraged to travel to
    and from school with older children from their
    neighborhoods. The PTA student directory
    available in the school office is a resource should
    parents need to contact neighborhood families. ”

    The PTA has set up walking school buses in my neighborhood. Each has 12-16 children with 1 adult (occasionally 2) bringing up the rear. There is a constant stream of these walking school buses. They are orderly to the point of being creepy (the kids walk in formation). And if my neighbor is giving me the story straight, they are only considered necessary under the age of 8. Between them and the high schoolers, the neighborhood is flooded with pedestrians in the morning.

  23. pentamom August 8, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    PTA? Even that (while not a bad thing) is symptomatic — when I started KG, my mom talked to Mrs. A and Mrs. B whom she knew from the neighborhood (I think one of them was her hairdresser) and asked them to have their somewhat older girls stop by our house in the morning so I could walk with them.

    Now we need a chartered organization to figure it out.

  24. carol h August 8, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    I’m 61 and when I walked to school from kindergarten through 8th grade. My elementary school was 6 blocks away and the middle school was 4 blocks.

    In elementary school we crossed a busy 4 lane street and there was a special stop light and an adult crossing guard to help us cross. Next to the school there was a quiet street and an 6th grade studetn (a “patrol boy” or girls helped us cross.

    It was quite an honor to be a patrol student, we got a a special belt to wear and also helped at the doors since the school was not unlocked until right before school started.

    We also walked home for lunch.

    Somehow we made it safely to school and back twice a day with no adult help except the one crossing guard.

  25. Josh S August 8, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    Odds of a kid being abducted by a stranger while walking to school: 1 in 600,000
    Odd of condom failure (when used properly): 1 in 100 (Effectiveness rate is ~99%)

    Why do we consider condoms “safe” but walking to school “dangerous”?

  26. Chris August 8, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    We were not allowed to let our kids walk to school in the 80s, even if it was just a block away! Was just writing about summer camp, and thought of you. Being free of parents for a whole summer was sublime 🙂

  27. Anne-Marie Cox August 8, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    Running? Jumping? PLAYING? Oh far too dangerous.

    The sign at our public pool reads something like this:

    NO running
    NO jumping
    NO diving

    I said you might just as well pull it down and put one up that says:


  28. Captain America August 8, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    In my little neck of the world, Lombard, IL, when I was growing up, I generally walked to school with my brother, about eight blocks down the way. Most of the time. Sometimes I went on my own. It wasn’t to us a safety thing as just the fact that we both left the house at the same time.

    But it IS a safety thing; harder to pick on many kids than one kid.

    People today have so very few kids that neighborhoods are dry of them. Not much critical mass of safety there. (That whole 2-kid thing bugaboo).

    As my moniker might have you surmise, I was a Safety Guard, when a child, so I wore a bright orange Sam Browne belt and helped make sure traffic stopped at the corners so the little kids could cross. This was probably the origin of JD Salinger’s “catcher in the rye” concept.

  29. J.T. Wenting August 8, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

    “The sign at our public pool reads something like this:

    NO running
    NO jumping
    NO diving

    and so did the one at mine 30 years ago.

    And for very good reason. The water was too shallow for diving, the pool too crowded for jumping without jumping on top of people (a favourite passtime for teens, annoying others by jumping on them, even then), and the slippery floors made walking at a normal pace tricky, running would have caused injury.

  30. Lyanne August 8, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

    Some of my fondest memories are of my brothers walking me to school. 🙂
    I lived in Connecticut and the school was half a mile away. I never considered letting my children walk because I was afraid of being arrested. You see, we had busses, and there was a 2 lane “highway” with no sidewalk, and even though there was a 10-20 ft grassy area on either side, no children ever walked along this road.
    Then we moved to California. No busses. My son suddenly had to learn to cross a 5 lane “street”, then another 4 lane “street”. Faster and busier than that highway in Connecticut, and scores of kids easily navigating their way. It’s funny how different things are in different places. I am so happy to be living in a place where I don’t have to fear sending my children out to play, not because it’s safer, but because attitudes are different.

  31. J.T. Wenting August 8, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    Can understand wanting 1-2 adults along to act as crossing guards for roads, as most schools no longer provide those as a service to parents and kids.

    But apart from that, as long as the kids know the way, don’t see why they’d need oversight.

  32. Natalie August 8, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

    The PTA has waaaay too much time on it’s hands.

  33. Dave August 8, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    The issue is we live at a safe time in this country. We are over protective of our children. We need to look at the facts and bite the bullet and let our kids go outside alone.
    My 14 year old granddaughter goes to school on Governor’s Island. That means 2 subways and a ferry which she does alone. My 10 year old granddaughter will be walking a little over a 1/2 mile to school which she will do by herself unless she runs into some friends. My 9 year old grandson meets his 14 year old friend and goes to the pool at the local park without adult supervision and they are all doing fine. Could something happen? Of course. But the chances of something happening are almost none existent. They are both around lots of adults who will protect them if an emergency arrises. They are doing nothing that I didn’t do at their age. As Joe Friday said in the old Dragnet show, “Just the facts make, just the facts.” Let’s make good decisions on reality not on worst case thinking, please.

  34. nancey August 8, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    Back in the late 70’s, no self respecting first grader would want to be seen with a parent, only little kids (kindergartners) would be escorted by a grownup and only if there were no siblings or neighbors willing to take them. Fifth graders were entrusted to be crossing guards at the busier intersections. It was a huge deal, you even got to wear an orange vest.

  35. Red August 8, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    The fourth graders were the crossing guards at my elementary school.

  36. Artemesia August 8, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    I walked to school with other kids or alone from kindergarten on — but I lived in a neighborhood with sidewalks as a young child.

    My kids grew up in Nashville and the only way for them to walk was in the street and often a busy street at that. In the US we have engineered a society where walking to get places is not safe or convenient by not providing sidewalks even in the city. The last few years in Nashville, I drove a mile to the gym – stupid — but walking meant a very dangerous trek in a busy series of streets.

    I love living in Chicago where there are sidewalks and we do most of our errands on foot because few shops we frequent are more than a mile away. A two mile walk for groceries is great exercise.

  37. Ben August 8, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

    I think this one is good news: let’s get kids moving first and deal with the parent anxiety of doing so without supervision later.

    With Mrs. Obama representing the entire country, I would think it’s a bad idea to promote walking without a parent, because no doubt there is going to be people listening in truly dangerous areas.

    She can always clarify and steer things later. This is a good first step in the right direction.

  38. Puzzled August 8, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    I really like Pentamom’s comment above, and I think it’s right on. I hadn’t thought about it, but isn’t the defining characteristic of our age, not isolation, but ceaseless organization? Our problem isn’t bowling alone, it’s the need to form a well-funded bowling organization, with officers, political elections, etc.

    Picture a room of people playing with their smartphones. We think of this as isolating, but it’s not – they’re all talking or playing with other people through those phones. Their problem is a lack of comfort with actual, authentic contact with others – they need the structure and organization of facebook.

    Hell, I do it too. It’s much easier to let eharmony send out ‘initiation questions’ for you than to approach a woman in a bar.

  39. eric August 8, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

    I’m 41. I walked to school everyday from the age of 5 until the age of 17. (I bicycled some of that time). I see these parents dropping their kids off at school or waiting with them at the bus stop and just don’t get it.

  40. Linda Wightman August 8, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    I suppose it’s better than not walking, but I think the walking school bus idea is more than a little silly. Maybe it comes from poor planning, e.g. lack of sidewalks, or lack of neighborhood schools. My school was a kilometer away, and traffic wasn’t bad, but we had no crossing guards. We walked singly or by twos or threes — I do think I would have been mortally embarrassed to have to be escorted in some sort of pretend bus formation!

  41. Linda Wightman August 8, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    And I forgot to mention that we all walked to school from kindergarten on. The first few days my mother walked part way with me, but after that I was on my own.

  42. Rob August 8, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    Our local school district has decided to cut one bus route to save some money and that affects part of my neighborhood. The new guideline is that if the kid lives within 2 miles of the school, they no longer get a bus ride. It only affects high school kids, and only about 25 kids total.

    There is outrage because the kids will have to cross a busy, 60mph speed limit road that our neighborhood is on. It’s not safe! The road is straight for about 3/4 of a mile in each direction from the neighborhood, one lane each direction with a middle lane for turning. There is a traffic light with crosswalks where the kids will be crossing, and there will be a crossing guard stationed there. Yes, a crossing guard for high school kids. BUT, say the parents, the kids are going to have to wait on the corner to cross, while 60mph traffic flies by. It’s not safe!

    Should I mention that in the 10 years I’ve lived here, there has been exactly one accident at that intersection, and it was before the traffic light went up? (and it was at night and the driver was drunk)

    I could also mention that most of us don’t drive 60 on that road anyway because the speed limit is a holdover from when there were no neighborhoods along it. Plus, with the traffic light right in the middle, and normal traffic, it’s near impossible to achieve that speed anyway.

    But here’s the best part: I see kids, younger and older, crossing or walking on this road all the time. Because there are no sidewalks along it, I see them walking along the side on the shoulder, or skating or riding their bikes or even walking right down the middle of the street. So it’s not like this is a road that kids normally avoid, and so far none have been hit by a car.

    But somehow, standing on the corner, at a traffic light, with a crossing guard, is too dangerous for a high school student who is walking to school.

  43. Stephanie August 8, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    My kids walk to school on their own. My neighbor won’t let her daughter (going into first grade) walk with them. They want an adult along. We live close enough that people park to walk their kids to the school on our street because the school parking lot is too small. First day of school, people often park clear up to our house, rest of the year maybe halfway there. It’s not a long walk by any means, and my only worry has to do with all the distracted parents driving their kids to school and making a mistake at the crosswalk, which I’ve seen happen, fortunately never with any injuries. I taught my kids that you watch the cars as you cross, so you have time to react if they start going at the wrong time. That’s happened even when I’ve been walking them.

  44. Emily August 8, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    I think the “walking school bus” idea is fine, as an OPTION, but not as a mandate. So, suppose you have two children, ages six and ten, who are enrolled in Hypothetical Scenario Elementary School, in grades one and five, respectively. School is a few blocks away, and you don’t quite trust the six-year-old to walk independently, because of daydreaming issues, and a loose grasp of road/traffic safety rules. The ten-year-old has no such issues. In that scenario, it’d be fine to allow the older child to walk alone, but send the younger child with the walking school bus. Also, another thing–do the adults running these walking school buses do anything to teach the kids about traffic safety, or do they just do it all for them? For example, I can see something like, “Okay, we’re about to cross the street. Jamie, can you tell us if it’s safe to go yet?”; being useful training for kids to eventually be able to walk alone, but if the kids are just shepherded to and from school by adults every day, without having to think for themselves, then that’s a problem.

  45. Emily August 8, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    P.S., I know it’s technically legal for people to let their kids walk to school alone; I just don’t think it should be taboo. My fear with the (very well-intentioned) WSB idea is that it’ll become the norm, and anyone who operates outside of that norm, by allowing kids to walk independently (to school, but also to the park, swimming pool, library, etc.), will be labelled as “negligent.” That’s my only objection–that, once the WSB system is in place, it’ll become tacitly “mandatory” from busybody neighbours ratting out non-participants, even if they’ve decided that their child is fine walking alone at the age of ten (or twelve, or fourteen).

  46. CrazyCatLady August 8, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    So, kids in kindergarten and 1st grade need to be supervised at ratio that is MUCH higher than the teacher in the school gets? A GOOD class size for much of the country for kinder is 20 kids per teacher. Seems a little off to me.

  47. RickD August 8, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    I walked to school on a daily basis when I was in kindergarten. Five minute walk, tops. But then again, I was already in the habit of walking around my town by then – to the ice cream shop, the pool, the library, the movie theater, the convenience store, wherever.
    The idea that 10-year olds need chaperones is based on nothing more than paranoia. Today’s kids need to stop being treated like china dolls.

    You know what else I did? Walk on train tracks. Why was this not a problem? Because I had a functioning brain!!

    Also – what about bicycles?

  48. Crystal August 8, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

    We’re moving to the UK in November. Seeing as how I run my 5-year-old to school (literally), I’m excited for a culture that will let him walk to school soon!

  49. lollipoplover August 8, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    My personal belief is parents can supervise their kids in a variety of ways depending on the individual child. I DO think that parents should walk or bike with their kids until they get the hang of it (not long, it’s not hard). I may not be walking with them but have *eyes* along your route to know what’s going on.

    My neighborhood has an informal bike line to school each day. The older kids phone each other and see which houses on the way (we are the farthest) will be jumping in the line. It’s kid run and they keep things in order better than any adult. I wish more kids would walk and bike to school but we really don’t need to complicate this with stupid ratios and CDC recommendations like this is rocket science.
    It’s just a commute.

  50. Julie August 8, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    My kids’ school has a walking bus. In theory, anyway. They say they do. I’ve never seen, never heard it, never been contacted to help with it–and I walk my kids to school every single day that it isn’t pouring rain. On sunny and cool days, I see a bunch of parents walking with their own kids. On cold or overcast or drizzly days, I’m the only one out.

    I think our school likes the idea of a walking bus. But I also think that most parents feel like if they’re going to have to spend the time chaperoning or actually doing the walking, it’s just waaay easier to make sure their own kids get there so they can then get to their own jobs. Most would have no problems switching off with their next door neighbor. I don’t think anyone really wants the job of taking the whole street.

    But if you follow the CDC guidelines for supervision, then really you’ve already got a bunch of parents walking their own kids and the neighbors next door–and nobody else.

  51. SKL August 8, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    In my area, kids walked to school until the government forced “busing” (integration accomplished by busing kids all the way across the city [both ways] so they could have racial diversity in the schools). Besides forcing former walkers to be bused, this motivated many families to move to the suburbs where schools were more spread out. And with fewer kids on the streets, walking became less safe. Basically the government killed walking for many kids.

    Any time the government gets involved in telling us how to live our lives “better,” things usually don’t get better.

  52. pentamom August 8, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    “So, kids in kindergarten and 1st grade need to be supervised at ratio that is MUCH higher than the teacher in the school gets? A GOOD class size for much of the country for kinder is 20 kids per teacher. Seems a little off to me. ”

    But, but, OUTSIDE! NO BACKGROUND CHECKS in the outside place!

  53. Sara August 8, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    I thought the same thing about the adult/child ratios. I as a teacher apparently can’t walk my class someplace because I’ve got 25 kids to watch at a time.

    I really like the idea of the walking school bus (although I assumed it would be just one or two adults with each group of kids) because it would allow kids who were young enough that they really need a bit of supervision to be able to walk when they wouldn’t otherwise and kids to be able to walk further distances.

    My daughter rides her bike to and from school independently starting last year when she started third grade. She really enjoys it.

  54. Gina August 8, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    @Kristy..I don’t think anyone is suggesting you shouldn’t walk with your child if you are doing it because you enjoy the socializing with other parents, etc. It’s the fear-centered mindset that FRK argues against. If you allow your child other freedoms and use the walk to school as a social time as well as a time to converse with your son about the things you see on the way, there is nothing wrong with that! 🙂

  55. Let_Her_Eat_Dirt August 8, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

    I love Michelle Obama, but you’re right, Lenore — this is absurd. Where did the CDC get that ratio?!

    More needs to be done to encourage kids to walk independently to school. I just moved to a town where the school is 1/2 mile away, and I’m looking forward to my kids walking to school. Unfortunately, along the way there are no sidewalks and a crazy intersection involving a blind hill and cars going 40+ MPH. But I may blaze a path through the woods to get there…

    Let Her Eat Dirt
    A dad’s take on raising tough, adventurous girls

  56. Jenny Islander August 8, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

    Yet another “Well, you know, if you don’t live where people are so comfortable that lots of adults don’t have to work all day, then you don’t really exist” dictum from people in authority.

  57. Sky August 8, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

    I recently moved and had hoped my kids would walk to school this year. I naively just assumed we were zoned for the school just across the street, a mere 0.3 miles from us – a nice, quick walk. It turns out we are instead zoned for the school 1.4 miles from us, across FOUR intersections, with no bus service. Makes sense, right? I may still have my kids bike to school, at least on good weather days, after we do a few dry runs together, though the neighbours tell me theynall drive their kids. I was just very disappointed to discover the zoning, as I had quite looked forward to NOT having to get in my car each morning.

  58. Charles J Gervasi August 9, 2013 at 12:04 am #

    When I was 6 y/o my classmate and neighbor walked to school alone.
    The walking school bus is okay, but it seems like it suggests walking to school is some big deal requiring special arrangement. I remember kicking rocks, talking to other kids, climbing on trees we could only reach b/c of snow bank; and I don’t think we would have done that as part of some adult production.

  59. Christine August 9, 2013 at 7:42 am #

    I have to laugh! I walked 3 blocks with my brother and/or a group of kids starting at 8. In 5th grade I walked with, what today would probably be viewed as a gang of schoolmates. And it was well over 2 miles away! In 7th and 8th grade I would walk home from after school fun and it was at least 5 miles away. I just can’t comprehend the fear of kids walking to school!

  60. John August 9, 2013 at 8:57 am #

    My two sons always walked to school by themselves starting in the 4-5th grade. My youngest when he was in 7th grade was struck by a car while in a crosswalk in which a crossing guard had already stopped traffic in both directions. It was fairly traumatic with a couple surgeries and involved about a year of rehab, but he is fully recovered. When I attended the city’s traffic committee where the incident was discussed, the police chief said there was just nothing more they could do and if parents wanted their kids to be safe, they needed to drive them to school. Still kind of mad he went there. My son went back to walking himself to school as soon as he was able. Its more nerve racking now for us, his parents, but he didn’t want to lose that independence.

  61. Naturalmom August 9, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    My own children attend a rural school, were walking is not feasible, but I love the fact that the elementary school in town still has many children who walk. I hope we can hold on to that tradition as a town.

  62. anonymous this time August 9, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    Thank you, Lenore, for articulating what it was that got my eye twitching whenever I read about this “recommendation.”

    It seems to me that there is a message coming loud and clear from the top down: “No one should allow their kids to walk anywhere alone, ever.”


  63. Ben August 9, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    @Sky: Please, pardon my ignorance. Zoning? Why are you not allowed to choose where your kid learns as you would be here in the Netherlands? It would safe both parents like you and the school a lot of money.

  64. Papilio August 9, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    @Ben: Because it’s the Land of the Free?

  65. Winter_Maiden August 9, 2013 at 11:09 pm #

    Starting first grade in Memphis in 1965, I was driven to school and guided to my classroom by my father the first day. The next day or two I was accompanied the six blocks to school by the 2nd- and 6th-grade girls who lived next door, and after that I was on my own. I don’t think I knew anyone who was driven.

  66. Really Bad Mum August 11, 2013 at 12:49 am #

    I actually think the adult chaperone is a good idea, not only would it ease the worries of some of the parents, it would create jobs and/ or give someone ( if on volunteer basis) such as retirees who may not have family a chance to be part of the community and spread the word non parents can be caring and not some creep who has alterior motives.

  67. Uly August 11, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

    What do you do in the Netherlands, Ben, when all the spots at your nearest school are filled by kids from out of the area?

  68. Valerie Parkhurst August 12, 2013 at 4:58 am #

    As usual Lenore your thoughts in “premise” may be encouraging to parents to let their children sprout their wings with independance, but in “Practice” as usual you fall short. Do you even know how I became aware of you many years ago? Thru convicted sex offenders. They quote you, they publish links to your “words of wisdom” and overall seem to be your biggest fans in their quest to minimize their presence among us in society. But of course everyday when I get up and read about some article profiling another case of abuse, kidnapping and now our infamous realignment policies in the correctional systems never does it quite seem to square with the “branding” your so famous for. Bad guys are opportunist..I wish it wasnt that way, but it is. Perhaps it may be prudent to recommend to your readers they balance your words of “wisdom” with spending a few minutes on websites that profile “missing and or murdered children” . Unlike your “thoughts for the day” these websites are quite precise with REAL Incidences, Real names and Real stories of children who were just “free-ranging”..

  69. Really Bad Mum August 12, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    @ Valerie, How many of these kids where stranger abductions? and what is the year of the first kidnapping/murder 1 year ago, 30 years ago? how many are run aways? Of coarse these stories make headlines because compared to the number of children there are it is extremely rare… I can not name one child stranger abducted in my town ( my family been here 50 yrs i was born here 35 yrs ago) in the history of the town. Parental kidnapping, yes, family/friends abuse, yes, murderer either known to child or a parent of the child, yes, so why would I worry about that? Now if a sex offenders rehab center was opened in my street then yes i would change the way I allow my kids to be free range,

  70. Rebecca August 13, 2013 at 8:06 am #

    In 1955, when I was five I walked to school, Merriment School, a primary school, K- 3, in Port Washington , New York. probably along side all the other five, six, seven and eight year olds walking to school. On one of the first days of school, at the end of the school day, I turned left rather than right when I left the school yard. Somehow it got sorted out. After that incident, walking home from school I would walk past my house to Main Street to the toy store my parents owned. There I would stand, calling out to my mom to come escort me across the street. She or the owner of small grocery store next to our shop would come and take me across the street. Of course they were expecting to hear me call out. No one was driven to school back then. Nor did parents walk their kids to school. I recently checked out the route on google maps that I took as a five year old child. It was an impressive distance with many small streets to cross! Unthinkable by the culture of fear standards that we have today!

  71. Papilio August 13, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    @Uly: Basically, a good education is not a matter of money or geography. Schools are either public or religious (well… it IS the Netherlands…), and since the latter group is no longer funded by churches etc, they’re basically all public from an American perspective (except: tax money, no school districts), and all held to the same quality standard. (Jenaplan, Montessori and other variations on ‘normal’ education are usually public.)
    Nationally, parents pick a primary school when the kid is about 3 years old. In the big cities with their immigrant issues, this is as low as, well, say right after birth. (That would be all the upper and middle class natives trying to get their kid on a ‘white’ school.)
    A better solution is to have parents give their top 2 or 3 and then use a kind of lottery system in order to give every school a balanced population; this system also gives priority to kids whose older sibling already attends the preferred school.
    In sixth grade it’s time to choose a secondary school, here it matters mostly what educational level the child will do, plus now the parents and child make the decision together.

    @Valerie: Statistics are hard to understand huh?

  72. Really Bad Mum August 15, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    @ papilio, unfortunately people have one track minds and once they believe something they will ignore facts just to maintain that belief. I think we should just ignore Valerie as I doubt she will listen to things like facts and statistics, but hopefully if we keep it mature on here people will be more open.

  73. Valerie Parkhurst August 16, 2013 at 5:28 am #

    “Really Bad Mum” is a very appropiate name for you..
    In as much as you want me to be your personal google on statistics, I’ll will again refer you to the very many sites that have profiled incidences of children walking to and from school or endulging in other activities that left them vulnerable. While Lenore in her intent is valid and her “viewpoints” optimistic , I do feel a healthy balance should be sought (especially) with the correctional systems releasing the worst of the worst out for no other reason than budget woes. While Facts and Statistics may be with Lenore, those same facts or statistics will become moot if it is Your child. I dont have the patience to tit for tat with you as I am sure there is a deeper agenda for you and Papilio to adhere too. Was that Mature enough for you?