Readers! A fellow Free-Ranger seeks your counsel! – L.
Readers! A fellow Free-Ranger seeks your counsel! – L.
Dear Free-Range Kids: I have a question that maybe you can pose to your readers. Â What age can kids begin to walk to and from school alone, and whose decision should it be?
Â Â Here’s the background. Â We live in a very safe, idyllic suburb. Â Our town (Temecula) was recently named the “2nd safest city in America” by a Business Insider survey that rated FBI crime stats. Â Most of the kids who go to our local elementary schools live right in the neighborhood where the schools are located, and all of the streets are fully paved for safe walking, with crossing guards at any slightly busier intersections. Because our neighborhoods are built around the schools, few kids have to walk more than 5-10 minutes (if that) to get to school.
Â Â We happen to live 350 steps (I counted!) from our front door to the elementary school. Â I can see the school from my backyard.
Â Â Our younger daughter is in first grade. Â I would say she is a “mature first grader” — responsible, very verbal, good common sense.
Â Â Our older daughter began walking herself to and from school starting in first grade and did it for several years (she’s now in middle school) without incident. Â In fact, she loved it. Â She always walked in a fun mixed-age group with other kids.
Â Â My younger daughter came home from school: Â The principal said nobody can walk to school alone until 3rd grade.
Â Â I figured it had to be wrong but sure enough, the principal expressed disdainful horror and a very condescending attitude when I gave her the shocking news that I wanted my daughter to walk alone. Â (And in fact had been doing so since school started three weeks ago.) Â I emphasized that we live very close, there’s a crossing guard, it’s a 90 second walk, and I watch my daughter from our yard the entire time.
Â Â It ended with, “Well, the law says I can’t force you to not let her, but we strongly discourage it.” Â She said she believes kids “don’t have the judgment” until at least 3rd grade.
Â Â My question for other parents: Do *some* kids have the judgment? Â (I certainly believe my daughter does.) Â And whose call should this be? Â Am I a wingnut to believe this is within the parents’ purview, not the principal’s? Â I really worry for the future of America if the very person we pay to steward our kids’ education doesn’t believe they can walk down a street by themselves.
Â Â What do others think? – Frustrated Mom
Dear Frustrated: I can’t imagine a neighborhood better suited for kids walking to school than yours, with its close-by school, sidewalks and crossing guards. What does it take for something to be SAFE ENOUGH? Apparently, for many Americans in 2012, that’s a funny question beause the answer is obvious:
Nothing is safe enough for our kids. Nothing. – L
When I was in 1st grade (1994) I skateboarded the 0.7 miles to school in my DC neighborhood. With two working parents I usually did it by myself or my next door neighbor who rode his bike. Despite all the odds I am still alive today.
I used to walk up the block at that age to buy chocolate milk. 1st grade is fine. The principle is probably worried about a lawsuit and is trying to cover his butt.
Yes, some kids do have that good judgement. And if they haven’t been coddled their whole lives, I would say most kids do. I was one of them. I ended up walking in a group with others (we were 3 blocks away, but sometimes it would just be me. I live acros the street from a school and not once have I seen children walking. In fact, there are no crossing guards, just a lot of cars and traffic congestion, and tons of blind corners from parents parking too close to intersections.
Can some kids walk to school alone in the first grade? Yes.
Can all kids walk to school alone in the first grade? No.
Who should decide? You the parent.
When should you let them? It varied child to child…as the parent you know them best.
How do you know they are really really ready? I honestly need to leave that to others to respond. But in general..willingness to obey directions when no-one is there to give them. As well as knowing the rules and have shown the ability to know when they should break a rule. You know they know how to handle the traffic on the walk there., and won’t run into a dangerous situation.
That covers some basics, in my opinion, but others are better off giving something more concrete.
I agree–just keep letting your daughter walk alone, and ignore the principal, who obviously doesn’t know your child nearly as well as you do.
My daughter started walking alone to school in 2nd grade.. we live 3 blocks from the school, but I cannot see the school property from my house because of the curve in the road.. that being said she was the youngest I’m aware of that walked *alone* in her grade… many students walked with older siblings and neighbors, but none of the students were on our block. And honestly I had a hard time letting her go all by herself.. on the other hand, if I had been able to see the school the entire way she would have been walking alone in 1st grade definitely!
I think in your situation, it’s more than fine!
The school should have no say, in my opinion. When my daughter was in 3rd grade, I let her walk less than a block to school, just straight up the road, no crossing.. Her teacher and principal were horrified and tried to ban it. I didn’t realize half a block was so dangerous!
They said something about a busy road and “what if a car jumps the sidewalk?” to which I said “I appreciate the credit, but I can’t stop a speeding car.”
Parent as you see fit. Keep up the great work.
I never did *walk* to school by myself, since it was just over half a mile. Starting in first grade (1979) I did, however, ride my bike, with another first grader, a third grader (the next-door neighbor), and the fourth-grader from across the street.
So far as I know (barring unexpected and tragic circumstances, anyway) we’re all still alive, and by this time next year we’ll all be at least 40 years old.
As for daughters walking home alone, *mine* decided to do that last year, with no notice or warning. We didn’t even realize she’d done it right away, since she got home right around the same time she’d have gotten home if she’d been on the bus. 🙂 We just asked her to make sure we knew she was walking home in the future…
I’m 40 years old. I walked to school starting in Kindergarten. (Farther than 90 steps too!) We moved in 2nd grade. I was now 8/10ths of a mile away from my elementary and we lived in Des Moines, Iowa. I walked alone or with my friends. When it was bitter cold in the winter we knew which buildings would be OK with us stepping in to warm up a bit. (They even had safe haven type signs in their windows letting them know they were child friendly businesses.)
I have fond memories of walking to school. And…to be totally honest…some not so fond memories. (It can be damn cold in an Iowa winter!!) But I don’t think a thing of my parents letting me walk. No…make that…making me walk. There was no other choice. I walked and that’s just the way it was. It was a perfectly safe thing to do then.
And given your circumstances – your daughter is perfectly safe now walking to school and I would highly encourage it!! That school needs to lighten up! My nephew started Kindergarten this fall and my sister has received flack from other parents because he walks to school by himself or with friends. But thankfully the school has stayed out of the situation.
Our kid’s school you have to be in the 3rd grade unless you have an older sibling to walk with but parents can go to the office and give permission for a 1st or 2nd grader to walk themselves. They don’t give parents a hard time. Kindergarten kids have to have a older sibling or a parent, they don’t make exceptions for them.
Based on what you describe, I would have total confidence in my six year old son walking from home to the school in your neighborhood. I have certainly met six year olds who wouldn’t be able to handle such a responsibility, though. It so depends on the kid.
Kind of reminds me when in second grade, I was reading chapter books, and I got chastized by the school librarian for straying out of the little room that had only picture books and books with like, one word on each page. Not allowed out of the little kid room until third grade! I think of that librarian often; she is one of the many reasons I homeschool and free-range my kids.
I think first grade is a fine age for most kids to walk too school, particularly such an amzingly short distance.
It’s certainly a parents choice. I think it was inaapropriate for the principle to give the kids any age they “could” walk too school at. Clearly it isn’t his choice and he shouldn’t presume to think all parents feel like he does.
My first grader walks two blocks to the park…… by himself. I feel very comfortable with it and he is far from terribly mature. He does know how to stay safe though. I practiced the route with him so often that he could do it blindfolded.
I’m pretty sure it’s more than 90 steps from my house to the nieghbors and all the kids from about four up go back and forth that distance without any supervision.
Clearly your daughter has the skills to walk to school safely, she’s been doing it for three weeks.
I think there is nothing wrong with letting your daughter walk in this circumstance. And it should 100% your decision. Why schools have involved themselves in the details of how non-bus riders get to and fro school in the last few years is beyond me.
I am struggling with a similar issue, but it is my neighbor who is giving me a hard time. We both have third graders and I am attempting to let my son walk home from the bus stop alone (we waited until this year as there are no sidewalks and a good up hill walk between the bus stop and our house). My neighbor, however, insists on standing at the bus stop and watching my son until he sees me at the top of the hill waiting for my son. I have told him repeatedly not to do so, but he “worries about what could happen”. The first day I let my son do this, this same neighbor and his wife almost didn’t let my son get off the bus! Thankfully I had talked to another neighbor about my plan and she interceded for my son. I have also since talked with the bus driver and told her in no uncertain terms that I want my son to get off the bus without me there. While I appreciate neighbors watching out for each other, this is just overkill.
I would *love* to be in walking distance of my son’s school . He’s in 1st grade, too. I think with a few practice runs, my son would be able to handle a short walk by himself.
And why do these “experts” make such set-in-stone rules about raising a child. I’ve seen some *dumb* 3rd graders and some wise 1st graders. Who should really make the call about when a child is responsible enough to walk to school on their own? Not the school, IMHO!
There are some higher order brain development things that happen in the brain at around 8 years… It’s a scientific truth that (most) 8 year olds have the cognitive ability for better judgement than they did at 6.
Which, you know, would be important information if you were trying to decide whether your child was capable of caring for a pet on her own, or staying home alone for an hour every day, or even ready for the responsibility of a cell phone. I’m not sure how it’s relivent to walking 350 steps. This doesn’t sound like it’s so much about whether you are accurately gauging your daughter’s ability. Most 6 year olds are mature enough to walk 350 steps by them self, I would hope. This sounds like a principal who is nwilling to understand that different situations are… Different! And yes, overstepping her bounds in terms of authority, or even implied authority.
IMO, the school should have absolutely no say in whether you allow your child to walk to school. It’s quite frankly none of their business, and the principal has absolutely no right to make up any kind of rules governing who may or may not walk to school. The very idea!
My kids are homeschooled, but we live in a neighborhood very much like what you described, and I allow my children to walk all around the neighborhood without me starting at age 6. Besides friends’ houses, they are allowed to walk to the park (around a corner and four blocks away), the church (across a field that starts at the end of our street), and the elementary school playground (all the way at the far end of the neighborhood, maybe half a mile or so). My 5yo is also allowed to tag along if she’s with an older sibling, since she’s pretty mature for her age. Needless to say, if my kids went to school, they’d be walking from kindergarten.
I walked to school beginning the first day of first grade in 1950, about a half mile or so. Played outside on school playground unsupervised until the bell rang.
Walked home for lunch, then back to school; then walked home after school. We sometimes walked in small groups, sometimes alone. But we walked.
Not only was it no big deal, but if a principal had told families that their kids couldn’t walk to school unsupervised, they’d probably have packed the next PTA meeting demanding his head on a pike.
A friend of mine gets off work half an hour after her 2nd grade daughter gets out of school. They live about half a mile from the school, with two busy streets, and several not-busy streets to cross. The first busy street has a crossing guard, but the 2nd doesn’t, so I meet the daughter & walk her home. We know from one of the district secretaries that she lives the farthest from the school of anyone at that school. And yet every day, there are cars lined up on both sides of both streets at the school to pick up kids.
I agree. I also have a first grader who is fully capable of walking the 1 block to school on her own. I felt she was fully able to do so last year in kinder. But her school requires students be at least in 2nd before they can walk to school. My husband tells me it’s a liability issue (isn’t everything nowadays?) – the school is somehow responsible for the student from the moment they leave home, so if something happens to them on the way, the school can be liable. Not sure about this but I am sure people like to sue for ANYTHING and place blame anywhere but themselves, so everyone is overly cautious in everything. My daughter is very tall, so a few times I’ve just let her go and kind of pretended she’s older… And some of the comments are right on the money – it’s often neighbors and “helpful” parents who are more “worried” about our children than we are!!! Like the ones panicking when my 3-yr-old runs ahead – afraid he’s going to run in front of the cars. You really think I would let him run ahead if he would run in front of the cars? Do I want to put my 3-yr-old in danger??? Sheesh.
In your situation it sounds absolutely reasonable for your daughter to walk to school alone (obviously, since she’s been doing it without incident for three weeks already!). My first grader is probably not ready to do the same (she’s a little bit distractible in the outdoors, the type who might stop to pick a flower, pet a dog, collect some acorns, fill her pockets with rocks…), but she would be fine walking to our neighborhood school with a same-age buddy.
I was a bus rider in first grade, but I walked home to our apartment from the bus stop, which was about an equivalent distance. I’m not sure I was entirely mature enough, because one afternoon I decided to go play in the snake-infested woods with some other kids for a few hours instead of going home – I got one of the few spankings of my childhood for that little escapade. That said, I was still allowed to walk on my own afterward, just with dire warnings about coming straight home.
Yes, it is TOTALLY reasonable for a 1st grader to walk to school. And it would still be, even if you couldn’t watch her the whole way, even if it was farther than the very short distance she has!)
Yet another example of how safety-consciousness makes parenting so much harder than it needs to be.
Yes my youngest started riding his bike alone at the beginning of 2nd grade. After the first day, he came home and said his teacher told him only 3rd graders and above could ride their bikes to school. He kept doing it and no one ever called me on it. If they had, I would have ignored it because the school can’t tell me how my child can get there and back.
Why my child will be your child’s boss
In Switzerland, it is officially discouraged for parents to accompany children walking to kindergarden. Again there is no rule, but it is felt that any 4- or 5-year-old (including the particularly immature ones) is capable of doing this, and even if the walk is not 100% in line of sight. And that they benefit from this.
I think it makes a fairly convincing case that the opposing view is valid.
Heck, when I was in first grade, I used to walk 10 miles to school! In the snow! Up hill! Both ways!
Sorry. Couldn’t resist.
Seriously, though, tell the principal his opinion is noted and let your kid walk to school.
I walked at age 6. More than half a mile. It being military housing there were LOTS of other kids to walk with, and even if you weren’t *with* them, there were always others within sight. It was lots of fun. We changed our route regularly according to who was a best friend at the time, and played games along the way, like who could walk the furthest while balanced on the curb.
I don’t think that you need to ask whether your child is capable of the walk, seeing as how it’s been going on for three weeks!
Why is this tiny walk in your line of sight supposed to be dangerous? Is there a mad molester out there ready to jump out from the nearby manhole and grab unaccompanied kids right off the crosswalk and run away at super-speed, dodging cars and witnesses right and left? If so, why isn’t there a manhunt on right now? Are there a lot of dangerous drunks on the road on school mornings? If so, why aren’t there police roadblocks at both ends of the street?
@Don L, Germany is very similar to Switzerland. While kids in kindergarten (preschool) are either walked to school or driven by their parents, once they get to first grade they walk to school on their own. In their last year of kindergarten a policeman comes to the school to explain about traffic safety. The kids practice crossing the street at a light and at a “zebra crossing” with the policeman and later with their teachers. By the time they get out of kindergarten, they have a lot of experience crossing streets. When my son started first grade, he walked to school and back home with a fellow first grader who lived in the building next door to ours. It was a 10-15 minute walk. He thought that he was “cool” because he walked with a friend instead of with Mom or Dad.
The elementary school (grades 1-4) that my son attended discouraged parents from driving kids to and from school due to limited parking in the area. Kids were encouraged to walk or ride their scooters or bikes.
“My question for other parents: Do *some* kids have the judgment?”
Is the judgement even needed in this case? It sounds like the kid does not have to make any decisions whole time and is watched whole time.
The larger question is, why does the school gets to decide how the kid gets there? Why it is accepted that schools can make and enforce rules about what is going on out of their boundaries?
That seems to be the craziest point in these stories. The school administration mess into things that are not much of their business and everybody accepts it as normal. “Those are the rules” ok, but where did you get the right to make them?
AlanaM: Indeed, there is the point that the school’s authority ends off their property. A child is a free person, whose right to travel by public roads for any reason or no reason is recognized in both U.S. constitutional law and international law.
The school could, if we’re being all legalistic here, insist on conditions for entering its property from the public road, but for a public school (government actor) to impose a condition on travel prior to crossing its bounds amounts to a restriction on a recognized fundamental right, and thus requires passing the strict scrutiny test: the rule must both serve a compelling state purpose, and be narrowly tailored to that purpose.
You are the mom or the dad. You know your child best. You should make the call. No-one else. A blog post of mine makes the case. [My view, in words of one syllable.]
Let your daughter walk if that’s what you want. I encourage you to ignore the principle or any helicopter moms that disapprove.
This bubble wrapped society that we live in is undermining self-esteem in children. It portrays the message daily that children arenâ€™t good enough to look after themselves.
And then people wonder why so many kids are immature and irresponsible.
And you wondered if you’re a wingnut?
Oh ya? In first grade I had to walk 10 miles to school as well. Then I had to swim another 10!
In most of the world, kids acquire “judgment” by learning from their mistakes in a relatively safe environment. American kids, however, get their “judgment” magically at a predetermined age. Curious.
The best solution here might be to let her walk to school together with a friend. That way she’s not walking “alone” as the school rules say, and the number of kids that get to walk to school without an adult following them is doubled.
Unfortunately, many 6yos are not given the chance to LEARN to be capable of walking to school alone.
I’m assuming the school can’t stop her from entering the school alone, so I would continue to let her walk!
The thing I take issue with is schools who won’t release students without a parent there (no exception for parents who say it is okay for their child to leave alone). In fact, our school started, at the beginning of the year, not releasing the students unless a parent had come to the classroom verandah! (It’s a small school, K-2, with only 1 class in each grade.) Since I walk my dogs to school pick-up, and dogs are not allowed on school grounds, this became a bit of a stand-off, until the school decided it was a stupid policy, and released students to parents who stood outside the gate!!!
I felt all rebellious the other day when, as a result of having two preschoolers home with a vomiting bug, I called one of my “authorised” friends to pick my girls up, and then just send them home via the usual walking route! I actually hoped the school would notice, but it appears to have gone unremarked (as it should!). I did have a chuckle, however, that my daughter’s best friend’s family drove slowly past our house just as the girls arrived home, “just making sure they got home safely.”
I wasn’t allowed to walk to school alone in first grade back in 1991, I had to go with the neighbour’s kid who was a couple of years older. On the other hand, I was allowed to walk to a friend’s house, which was further away with more street crossings, by myself though.
This leads me to believe that my mom was more worried about me meeting one of my firends on the way to school and missing the bell because we were chatting rather than about me getting lost or crossing the street
Story aside, it should definitely be the parents’ decision. Unfortunately, more and more schools consider that they are responsible for the students on the way to and from school as wall as on the grounds.
My son just started Kindergarten at age 4 (mandatory age for kindy in Switzerland, where we live). It’s now week 5 of school and I’d say a good half of the kindergarten students (two years of kindergarten so 4 to 6 year olds) are now walking to and from school by themselves.
Parents that live about 15 minutes away (walking) take turns bringing the children home, but they meet the kids at the corner rather than at the school.
For the record, I still walk my 4 year old, because I cannot convince him that he needs to look at the actual road to see if cars are coming. He looks right and left about 10 feet before the curb and always announces it safe. When we get that skill down, he’ll be going on his own.
My family lived in the same type of neighborhood about the same distance from the school when I was a kid and I walked there from 2nd grade until middle school without a single issue.
And the only reason I didn’t walk to school by myself sooner was because the school wasn’t built before then.
Count me in with the group that doesn’t understand how getting to/from school became the school’s decision. (I know, lawsuits, liability, yada….) My kids are grown now, but if anyone had tried to dictate to me, through a policy that applied to everyone, how they could get to and in and from school, I would have completely ignored it.
Let her walk.
First grade seems a little young to me, but like everyone else says, it depends on your child and also the safety of the area. Also, if there are going to be other kids with her, even if they are not older kids, then she isn’t truly alone.
I would let her walk to school if she wants to, especially if her older sibling walks with her. After all, I seem to remember Ramona Quimby walking to school at age eight, and other than mistaking “a quarter past” the hour for 25 minutes past the hour, she made it just fine!
I hope that you will let the comments here have more weight than the words of one overly-cautious principal. Your daughter is already walking and I see no reason to take that independence away from her.
My son is in Kindergarten and walks 1/2 mile to school. I was confidant he could do it safely because we have made the walk together countless of times when he was in preschool. I did have to get permission from his teacher for him to walk home, since they traditionally only dismiss kindergartners to an adult or older child. Two neighbors were surprised when they first heard I was doing this but are now allowing their 1st graders to also walk. Other people still think I’m crazy but I don’t care; I see the confidance and joy my kid takes in being independent and I know what I am doing is right.
If your neighborhood isn’t safe enough I don’t know what is. Walk on, wingnut. 😉
On another note. On the first day of school a beloved senior in our area crashed her car head on with a school bus (reason unknown at this time) and died. Should students be allowed to drive? Of course! Don’t let one tragedy mar lives any further than the tragedy already does.
Our community here encourages walking, cycling, etc, to the point where a few times a year there is a free breakfast for cyclists on the bike path.
You don’t get to ride the bus if you’re within a mile of school or if you’re in an alternative (admitted by lottery) school, or if you’re out of district for the school.
Parents are urged not to drive if possible, and we have no-idle zones in front of the schools.
Google for “Safe Routes to School” and point out to the principal that it’s a Federal program, not some hippie grass roots can’t afford a car thing. 🙂
I remember walking to school when I was in first grade (flat both ways) but quite a ways. Say about 1/2 mile or so. In snow at times.
If the principal believes that holding kids back is somehow a good thing, I would be concerned about the rest of the policies she has in place.
@Carolyn–I read that story too, but Ramona was in kindergarten when she walked to school alone, and mistook “a quarter after eight” for 8:25, following the logic that there were 25 cents in a quarter. Her sister had an early dentist appointment, so not only did she walk to school alone, she was left alone in the morning to get herself dressed and fix her own breakfast.
“Can some kids walk to school alone in the first grade? Yes. Can all kids walk to school alone in the first grade? No. Who should decide? You the parent.”
I agree wholeheartedly, but I want to point out that within my lifetime (and I’m not dead yet) ALL children (excepting those with handicaps, of course) were expected to be capable of walking to school on their own by kindergarten. This was in a time when almost all mothers worked at home and could have walked with their kids. But who would do such a thing when the kids could do it themselves? And don’t say that life was safer then; maybe in some ways it was, but I remember when I was in elementary school there was an incident with some guy driving by and trying to entice kids into his car with promises of candy. I don’t know if he was ever caught or not, but I do know that no one thought it any reason to change our method of getting to school. We were merely informed of the situation, admonished to go straight to and from school, and of course “don’t take candy from strangers.”
And, has been pointed out, children of that age routinely get themselves to school in Switzerland, including taking public transit on their own.
It’s not that age that’s the problem, or the era — it’s how we do (or don’t) prepare our children for taking on responsibilities.
I used to walk to Kindergarten!
You, as her parent, should be making this decision. You have clearly thought it through, and are fully capable of determining whether your daughter is able to take on this responsibility. I find the principle’s attitude condescending and arrogant.
Anyone who would like to ensure that parents make these decisions for their children, rather than politicians or government entities, should visit parentalrights.org and call their senators regarding the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (which would make it the explicit law of the land that the government, not parents, decides what is in the best interest of disabled children). Then support the Parental Rights Amendment, the next time it comes up.
@CG: “I have also since talked with the bus driver and told her in no uncertain terms that I want my son to get off the bus without me there”
Doesn’t your school have a policy on this? Our school states that a person must be waiting for a kindergartener but that from 1st grade on, a child will be dropped off by the bus without an adult present. Most of the elementary kids in our neighborhood get off the bus without an adult present.
My son is 1st grade, and my neighbor has a 3rd grader who she does meet (problems with the girl running off instead of going home), and I do have it arranged with her that if my son gets off and one of us is not present, she’ll knock at the door and check if someone’s home. My bigger concern is that traffic can prevent me from getting home exactly on time, and my son has not yet proven himself able to be trusted with and use a key. Hopefully soon, we’ve been trying to teach him.
Here is what I think has happened. The school got a new principal or a new superintendent. That is the only reason why I can see that the rules would change.
I probably would have asked what happened in the previous year or so that made this rule become manditory. If it was the change of staff, that is hogwash. If some child was hurt, then I would ask for the details to see if the kid was at fault or a driver. If a driver, then again, you are not able to stop that car.
Rules like this only are allowed to happen because the parents go along with them. Good job for this parent by refusing to go along with it!
Oh, and I would argue that with anti-lock brakes on cars, kids are safer than ever.
I rode my bike or walked to 1st grade. My 4th grader walked to 1st grade. If we lived closer, my 2nd grader would have started walking to school in the spring of 1st grade, but we live a mile away and across a very busy street without crossing guards.
In Texas you have to be 7 years old to be home alone. Schools are supposed to allow 7 year olds walk home alone. Anyone younger is not to be allowed to walk home, as the school doesn’t know if someone is home to take care of them. That said, some schools decide that they are going to be “more vigilent” and you have to point out what the law actually says.
@DH: we have the same policy (kids can get off the bus without a parent from 1st grade on), however last spring my neighbor complained to the district when her daughter (second grader at the time) was let off the bus without a parent present. The bus driver is now extra cautious at our stop so I had to tell her to ignore my neighbor and let my son off the bus regardless. Sadly, it seems our school district is more free range than some if the parents in it!
Print out a FRK card to show her principal when she proves him wrong with her good judgement.
Invest in your principal’s education.
Buy a copy of Lenore’s book:
Free Range Kids
Give it to her and say something like: “I know you have a lot of things to deal with as principal, and probably aren’t aware of the information in this book. If you read it, you will understand why I think allowing my child to walk to school is safe.”
This way you might be helping the entire neighborhood.
My son has been walking by himself since he requested to during the second semester of Kindergarten. We live in a similar school neighborhood where it is less than 1/2 mile to school. My son can make it in under 5 minutes if he runs. If you can watch your kid walk all the way to school from your porch then technically she is supervised and not doing it alone ;). Your principal needs her priorities updated and introduced to the reality of the obesity epidemic in our elementary schools. The point of these neighborhood schools was originally so our kids wouldn’t have to be bused and could be within a safe walking distance to the school. I will be greatly saddened by the day when my school decides it is safer for the daily traffic jam in front of our school to occur than to have the kids walk. Sadly I think that day approaches. Right now they just instituted use of the Raptor checks for all parents picking up their kids from the after school BASE program. The intent is to do a Raptor check on all people entering the school.
Wow…I am sorry to hear that the school is giving you such a hard time. I’m not a parent, but when I hear these kinds of things I feel sorry for those who are. We as a society are told that parents are vital to the health and well-being of children, and then we frighten those parents into trusting their own best judgment, or indeed anything else but the most conservative possible assessment of any situation.
Keep the faith, and don’t let anyone frighten you out of your own judgment.
Sorry…I meant to say, “we frighten those parents OUT OF trusting their own best judgment.”
I walked to school by myself (usually with a pack of other kids from the neighborhood, or at least 1-2 others) starting on the 2nd day of kindergarten. And it was at least 1/2 mile, and I don’t think there were sidewalks. I lived to tell the tale, as did everyone else I grew up with.
Oh, and we had to cross 2 streets, only one of which was monitored by a (5th grade) crossing guard. The one we crossed by ourself was the busier of the two, by far.
In my town currently, kindergarteners must either take the bus or be picked up by a responsible adult. For students in grades 1-5, it’s the parent’s choice.
I’m pretty sure I walked to kindergarten by myself, under similar circumstances (i.e. my mother could watch me all the way). I trust my 5-year-old to roam up and down the block though she’s not to cross the street yet, but by first grade, no problem.
I guess you could ask yourself “What could happen?” Is your child the sort to dash into traffic? To dawdle on the way or roam off towards the playground?
It’s useful for a school to give parents guidelines as a starting point, but they’re going to be cautious by their very nature.
I lived in a very rural area in kindergarten and first grade, so I rode the bus. However, the bus stop was about 1/2 mile down the hill from our house. In first grade I was allowed to walk to and from the bus stop on my own. There were only 2 other houses near us, so my mom had pretty unimpeded sight lines if she wanted to watch me from the window, but I doubt she ever did.
Just had a lovely talk with the principle of my sons school. They don’t actually have a policy and leave it up to the parent.
So, I had a little talk with my kindergartner on the way home. We will be working toward him walking to and from on his own! 🙂 We are two blocks away without any street to cross.
When my son was in grade 1 or 2 (can’t remember now, it’s all becoming a blur), I had him walk alone to school. It was about a mile. I had walked the same distance / under similar conditions to school as a 5 or 6-year-old and wanted him to enjoy this rite of passage and development as well.
Dad freaked out, told him it was “totally inappropriate” (we had divorced). My son’s excitement and confidence was utterly deflated, and there was no way in hell he was going to cross Dad, so walking to school was off the table until God knew when, since Dad also threatened to call CPS.
At the end of grade 2, I think, my son started biking to school on his own, and he came home to tell me that the principal said it wasn’t allowed until grade 3.
I know, I know, there are those out there who shout, “Who cares what the school says? Who cares what your ex says? Keep doing what you are doing!”
What I saw in my own child, however, was a huge breach of trust… who was he to believe was advocating most effectively for his safety? His father, who was obsessed with the idea of stranger abduction? The school, who was obsessed with liability? Or his mom, who is obsessed with supporting growth, learning, and health?
Well, even at age 10, he was still confused about this, still wanting to show loyalty to his dad by sticking with the fear of kidnapping. I worked hard with him to overcome it.
It’s a simple enough thing to tell parents to ignore the principals, the silly rules, the other parent’s objections. But where does this leave the kid? And if the kid is looking for a way out of what might be a less comfortable option (walking a mile in cold weather v. being driven to school in a warm car), well, they pull out the “My principal said” or “The school rule is” card and it’s hard to argue that in this one case, the school is wrong, while expecting the kid to blindly adhere to all the other regulations.
I’m all for questioning authority, it’s my stock and trade. I just know how hard it is to be the kid in the middle of that (because I’m the child of rabble-rousers too!).
My deeply shy son started walking himself to school in first grade, across a fairly busy street with no crossing guards. It has been excellent for his confidence.
Official school policy for pickup was that he had to be picked up by an adult, but the few times I told his teacher I needed him to walk home with his big sister, she was not only fine with it, she also shooed off friend’s parents from driving them home, even though said parents were on the authorized list. I had told her the kids could walk home, and she made sure they would. I loved that.
My first grader walks to school with her older brothers, ages 10 and 8. I start all of my kids walking back and forth without an adult at about this age.
One teacher described me as “brave” for allowing it. eye roll.
This is just nuts. At 5 1/2, my daughter hiked up Mt LeConte, which is a 5 mile hike to the top. We spent the night at the top in a shelter and hiked down the next day.
Just short of 6, my son hiked Little Belknap, which is a 5 mile hike as well, thorugh a fairly rugged lava field.
My kids are not super-kids, nor are they pushed into this. Any kid who’s physically fit can do these things, because they’re fun, and you get to see things you’ve never seen before.
If a kid who’s not even in 1st grade can climb a mountain, why can’t they walk to school?
This story and the last one about the library are all about the lowest common denominator. Rules are made to protect the least able to look after themselves and the rest have to abide by them. Many kids are not able to walk themselves at this age, although I can’t remember any when I was in grade 1. Many parents are not able to think for themselves enough to consider whether or not their children are able to walk by themselves – at least in the minds of administrators.
As long as rules are made to protect the weakest, children will grow up without having to learn independance. It is a sad way to make rules. It’s frustrating for parents who strive to teach their children to think for themselves only to have some authoritarian despots take the decision power from them.
My kids’ schools will not allow any kid to walk themselves to or from school until grade 3. Now, traffic is a concern, but instead of paying for a crossing guard, they decided to pay 3 times as much for a bus – even for older students who live 1/2 km away.
@Hilary: “My first grader is probably not ready to do the same (sheâ€™s a little bit distractible in the outdoors, the type who might stop to pick a flower, pet a dog, collect some acorns, fill her pockets with rocksâ€¦)”
That’s what I expect an FRK kid to do! As long as it is drilled into them that they should not allow anything to distract them when they are crossing a road.
My 7yo once got scared of walking home alone after they read a scary story at school. So I gave her this task to distract her from her fears the next time she was due to walk home on her own: “Collect 3 different kinds of mushrooms, 3 different coloured autumn leaves and 5 acorns”. It worked a treat and she never complained about feeling scared again.
When I was in 5th grade, responsible 5th graders were give a vest and allowed to help the little kids cross the streets. This was a special honor. No parent would have even considered driving a first grader to school, nor would any self respecting kid be seen with a parent.
What happened? We were capable then, but not now? Then again, from age five and up we were sent outside to play by ourselves and expected to cope.
One of my daycare kids is in second grade. She is walking to school by herself most days. She has to walk on the dirt shoulder, with traffic, because crossing IS dangerous, though the traffic has slowed down since they put speed bumps all the way down the road. It is a 25mph street in a residental neighborhood, but In a big city (Portland, OR). This kid is a bit of a ditz, but she handles it fine. I hope you do what is best for your family and child.
I’m not even sure I understand the use of the word “alone” in this context. The child isn’t even out of the line of sight of home the entire time (and is in fact actively being watched by mom), and certainly not out of sight of both home and school. In what sense is she “alone” at all?
It’s none of the school’s business and we have GOT to put a stop to this idea that the school controls any aspect of the child’s life beyond the school property lines. IMO that’s a far more important battle than getting kids to play at the park “alone” or any of the other things we often discuss here (valid as those concerns are.)
Our federal government spends millions of dollars on the Safe Routes to School program to create neighborhoods like yours. (See http://www.saferoutesinfo.org).
First graders are definitely encouraged to walk.
And as the principal said, she can suggest, but not she nor anyone in any school has the authority to tell you how your children can get to school.
I can’t help, but add, because I thought of it – Ruby Bridges was six years old when she dealt with talking to school under the watchful and hateful eyes of the neighborhood.
When I was in my last year of pre-school at 5yrs old it was at the end of the block so I often walked. When I was in 1st grade the school was a little farther, but still pretty close & I often walked both to & from school. Although I walked alone there were often other children walking the same way for 1/4 to 3/4 of my way. I never had any problems & often stopped in at a friends house to play on the way home. That was before kids were bombarded with homework. My son is in Kindergarten & I would not feel comfortable letting him do the same because he often doesn’t pay attention & unfortunately his school is 1.5 miles & up a steep hill. That said if I lived close & had a child that I felt was capable I most certainly would let them walk to school.
I took the bus to kinder. As did all my siblings. When I had my own, I put her on the bus. I was amazed that some people in my neighborhood refused to put their kids on the bus as they didn’t think it was safe. My daughter made some friends with kids older than her, and it was a great experience.
Had she gone to the school a year or two more, I would have let her ride her bike, as it was only a mile. But with parents cutting in and out of the parking lots at the school and no bike path, the last 100 feet before the school were the most dangerous. I rode a couple times with her in 1st grade, and I had to admit, it was scary. There were no houses for a mile around the school, only orchards, and parents were not looking for bikes or walkers as they just didn’t happen.
Kindergarten, maybe not the first week. I’d walk the kid the first few times, and then if there are other kids in the neighborhood just let the kid walk with them. If there are no other kid, then you can ease out by first walking her across whatever the busy street is (if there is no guard), then walking her -to- the busy street and watching her cross, and gradually weaning her.
Only if the kid wants to. Don’t force her/him if she doesn’t.
I walked to my grandmother’s house after school starting in first grade. It was .3 miles (just looked it up). All residential, but not within sight of the school. My kindergarten brother was with me. So I say definitely. I also had to walk the same distance to the bus stop in the mornings starting in third grade, with my younger brother and sister. Had to catch the right bus (bussing was insane in Little Rock in the late 80s/early 90s, and at least 3 or for different school buses came by), or go back home and call my dad or grandma to take us to school if we missed it ( you can imagine how that would go over).
I am getting frustrated that the ages when kids can do things independently seem to be going up across the board (walking to school, going to the library, drivers licenses). Are we going to raise the age for when children become adults to 21 next?
Also, there seems to be more news stories about kids getting hit by cars at BUS STOPS vs. kids walking or biking to school (two this week in PA). Anything can happen anywhere. Walking independently from point A to point B is a fundamental skill they all children will need to learn. Why wait?
In 1st grade we lived in a “burb” that had NO local school. I had to take a city bus downtown, then walk through town for 15 minutes to get to school, sometimes with a slightly older girl who lived next door, more often on my own. Going home I had to make sure I got on the correct bus and get off at the right stop, then walk down the street we lived on. I never gave it a second thought.
Forgot to add that my mom didn’t drive and my father worked shifts, so taking me to school was not an option.
The principal, by discouraging parents from letting their children walk to school, is the one who is making walking less safe (altho given that kids in the upper grades can walk, I’m assuming that there are actually plenty of children on the streets leading to the school during the time when your child is walking). My kids all walked starting in first grade, and in fact very few children were driven to school or walked by their parents after Kindergarten.
The most inmportant part of this story is when the principal said she “can’t force you” to comply with this rule. This is a good opportunity to point out the difference between a “rule” something that is enforceable and an “opinon” what the principal has and you don’t agree with. It is a perfect opportunity for your daughter to learn the value of doing what you believe is the right thing even when someone “important,” like the principal, doesn’t agree with it. I would definitely still have my daughter walk, by herself and while she was walking I would take pride in the very vaulable lessons she is learning from something so simple and mundane as walking to school. Good for you Mom!
My daughter is in 2nd grade and began walking to and from school, by herself, last year… as a first grader. So, in her case, yes. She’s capable of walking to school alone, and was, even as a first grader.
(If you’ve followed this blog for a while, she was also the little girl who was left to play in the children’s section of the library while I ran upstairs to get a book; Lenore published an article about it on AOL and it touched off a firestorm… So she’s always been a bit precocious. ;o) )
So, to answer your questions… Yes. Some kids absolutely have the judgement. And the decision should be in your hands, not the principal’s. Good luck!
My kids (11,9) do not walk to school as it would require crossing a street that is three lanes of traffic each way. It is not them I am worried about, but rather the drivers. However they do walk two blocks to the bus stop. I shove them out the door every morning at 8:45 and they come wandering home around 4ish.
As a consequence they know everyone in the neighborhood and the names of all the dogs/cats.
I struggled with the same issue this summer. For the past four years, my work schedule of 50% has made it possible for me to walk my kids to and from school every day. This year I increased to work 80% which means I can take the kids to school but I couldn’t guarantee that I could drive to their school on time (considering weather, traffic, things coming up at work) every day before they got out. I figured that if my first and third grader walked home together, it would buy me 20 minutes and I could guarantee that I would be home for them. We live 1.7 km away from the school. Bus services starts at 1.6 km but because our street is at the end of the neighbourhood, we would be the only street in the school community that would require a bus so it was decided that my children on my street would walk, despite being `in the bus service radius’. I’m glad that we are not being bussed to school. There are no buses at my kids’ school because everyone (except us) live in that 1.6 km radius so a walking community is encouraged, plus more after school teams and clubs. I checked with CAS to see if legally my children could walk home together, a route they have done every day for the past four years, a route where many other parents and children will be joining them. I was told that I couldn’t because my children are of an age that requires responsible supervision at all times. I was pretty steamed about the responsible supervision at all times because technically that means my kids can’t play outside without me being outside with them. Instead, what we’ve done is found a nice boy in grade eight who is willing to walk the kids home. I pay him generously for his time and he’s willing to stay on to babysit for extra time if I have a meeting or an appointment. Some days (like when the weather is bad), I’ll pick up all three kids, which I think the teen appreciates. It’s a great experience for the teen and my kids to walk home together but I wish that my kids could have just walked home themselves. Next year the teen will be in high school so I’ll have to figure something out but I’m hoping that my new fourth and second graders will be okay walking home together after spending a year learning the route and gaining independence under the eye of a great teen.
I walked to Kindergarten by myself — taking a shortcut through two neighbors’ backyards and crossing one street — and no one thought anything of it. In first grade, I walked to school, then home for lunch, then back to school and home again in the afternoon. Obviously it was a short walk, but I was certainly not in sight of an adult the entire time. Of course, this was 40-cough years ago. But I don’t think five-year-olds have changed so much that it’s inherently unsafe for a Kindergartener to walk to school with a parent watching her the entire trip.
Oops — and you’re not even talking about a Kindergartener, but a first-grader!
@Alissa C, I get those looks about letting my 3-year-old run ahead of us too. We live in a city and she often rides her scooter when we’re just going around the neighborhood. Obviously she’s a lot faster on a scooter than I am on my feet, and she *knows* to stop at the corners and wait for me to catch up. She also knows how to wait for the WALK signal when crossing the street, and to stay within the cross walk. Not that I’d let her do these things on her own yet at 3, but she already knows and understands how to cross the street safely so I’m sure she’ll be able to do so alone by 6.
I’m also living in Germany and I can confirm that first-graders here in Munich are encouraged to walk by themselves after the first week or so, even when they live 1-1.5 km away. Kids that live farther away tend to walk in packs, and sometimes they get picked up — but most of the kids in my daughter’s first grade class did walk at least one way most days. I had no worries at all about my daughter walking the couple of blocks to school alone in the morning. I was slightly concerned about her walking to her after-school program about 800 meters away as some days of the week she needs to walk alone (she is the only first grader and the older kids sometimes stay later). But it was no problem and her teacher even commented positively to me about how responsible she was about getting to after-school by herself every day.
I did refuse to buy her a scooter, though, because i didn’t want her begging to take the scooter to school/after-school care. Our school recommends waiting until 3rd grade to let kids use bikes or scooters. Some kids in her class did already have scooter though, and I will consider it this year.
And once kids start going to high school (Gymnasium), which starts in 5th grade, not 9th grade, some of them take public transportation, on their own, depending on where they live. If my daughter wants to go to a creative arts high school, say, when she gets older, I would probably need her to take the U-bahn (subway) by herself. And noone here would think that made me a bad parent!
Interestingly, when I went to a “school-skills readiness” parent night at our preschool (kindergarten in Germany), the teacher actually mentioned that walking to kindergarden was helpful in getting kids ready for school. She notices a big difference when the kids walk with parents vs. getting driven to school. They are better able to handle themselves on outings, etc.
I am pretty sure the rate of childhood obesity here in Germany is a lot lower than in the US. I can’t cite you any statistics, but we just visited the US and my impressions was you see a lot more chubby kids. Out of 25 kids in my daughter’s class, not one was overweight.
I grew up in Encinitas, North County San Diego… very close to Temecula. We moved here when I was 8, so I can’t say much for 1st grade in this area. But I still live here and can atest to the fear mentality that has given way to the judgement of parents who allow their children the same freedoms we once had. Our school district does not have school buses, nor do we have crossing guards at most of the schools. Parents are expected to drive, or walk their children to school, until 3rd grade – is what my son’s principal said. They also have introduced Ipads into the school, all children 3rd grade and up get one. It seems to me that the teachers have been given some instruction that 3rd grade is a responsible age.
If I lived close enough to school, I would allow my children to walk to school alone or with other kids starting at kindergarten. Provided they did so and didn’t require me to walk with them because of separation anxiety. I walked home from kindergarten alone when I was young, I was one of those kids afraid to leave my parents side at the grocery store… but somehow I survived and now believe it is a good thing to teach the same freedom to my children!
My sons school will not let him walk home does not provide transportation ..not the point my point is they will refuse to release my soon unless i come get him.i work so now have to pay 260$ every 2wks for they ymca to pick hi up bring him across town were my eldest picks him up and he has to walk 2 miles home. If the school would just let him go i w ould be saving a lof money and time.mind you the boy is 8 and would meet at home with his brother
I’m a bit surprised people still allow their children walk to school alone. And in the first grade?! People, I’m sure your children are smart with common sense and it appears that the overall reasoning here is that it should be up to the parents to decide. But do you all think a child can compare to the physical stregth of a grown man?? I have two toddlers now and I am in no way a helicopter parent by any means but I would never let them go off alone. Just go to any Walmart and look at the missing children posted all over. Jessica Ridgeway (god rest her soul) was 10 years old and in the fifth grade. It doesn’t matter what kind of neighborhood you live in you cannot predict crazy and you cannot trust the world is a safe haven that revolves around your child. The world does not watch your child that is what parents are for. Do not complain about the cost of transporting your child to school safely because if all the parents of lost children could go back, they would. Do not blame principals and people who do not agree with you on this these are the same people who will search for your child and light vigils when it is already to late. According to http://www.FBI.gov/stats 76% of child abducted murders happen in 3 hours of abduction. 89% of child abducted muders happen within 24 hours. If you can’t watch over your children than don’t have them please people their not small adults their children!! And children go missing everyday!! The effort or money would not compare to living the rest of your life knowing you could have decided differently. Also, hasn’t anyone here even heard of sex trafficing??? Sometimes when they find children who’ve already been taken its horrifying when they find them. But they find them. What about those who are never found? Evil knows no boundaries and even adults go missing. Children need to be watched over and for those who disagree. I hope you rest well in the idea of what is convenient but be warned there are those out there who you have just made it a little easier to victimize and destroy innocence. And then who would you blame when it’s to late? Who would you blame?
@Steve re. “Buy a copy of Lenoreâ€™s book: Free Range Kids”
That’s just what I’m doing this year! My child’s school is not yet crazy with parents driving their kids to school. Not yet. But it’s getting crazier.
For the first time in years, due to needing to be at the school first thing in the morning, I went with my daughter (via public transport) to school. Low and behold multiply cars dropping off children right up at the school. I do not recall any cars being so close to the school when I brought my child there when she first started school four years ago.
And here’s the thing, I don’t believe that Ã¼ber safety is a Top Down thing – some kind of devious plan that school administrations dream up to undermine parents’ authority. It is simply the schools giving the people what they want.
The story from CG above illustrates this beautifully (a PARENT demanded school bus driver only drop child off when adult is present). Unfortunately, the shrillest voice “You’re not keeping my child saaaffee!!!” will be the default mode for most schools. Unless we tell them we want it to be otherwise.
My daughter’s school principal doesn’t like the directly-up-to-the -school car drop offs, he even mentioned it at parents’ evening — “if you must drive your child to school please drop your child a safe distance away from the school. It won’t harm them to walk a bit”. My hope in giving him Lenore’s book is to keep things that way. Before bad forces make him nervous enough to do things their way. After all, they’ve obviously paid no heed to his plea.
Don’t let the scaredy-cats win. We sane ones have to be loud-ish voices in all this madness. Teach the principal, gently, the way things stand in the real world, not the one the media would have us believe exists. You and your daughter live in the real world. And the principal should come join you. It’s a pretty nice place to be.
I started walking to school by myself three weeks into kindergarten, and I lived in Atlanta (a sheltered middle-class suburb of Atlanta, but still Atlanta). There was a very scenic path through the woods that lots of kids in my neighborhood used to get to the elementary school, and the school both knew about it and encouraged its use. In fact, they post older students who were hall monitors (fifth graders) along the path to direct traffic and keep an eye on the younger kids thirty minutes before school. It was a great system – the older kids got a sense of responsibility, and it was great fun for the younger ones. I used to pretend I was an explorer making my way through uncharted territory, and I was very sad when my family moved and there was no similar path to my new school.
I hope this is still a thing in that neighborhood today, but I would not be surprised at all to learn that the new wave of hand-wringing parents has shrieked “Murderers! Kidnappers! Pedophiles! Germs! Poison ivy!” and gotten that path closed down.
So my answer to the question is, yes, of course some young children are capable of walking to school. For the distance mentioned in the original post, I would even say most are.