What Age Can Kids Start Walking to School?

Here’s my eayhaeszkn
take on the issue
, published in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune. Some of it will sound a little familiar to Free-Range Kids regulars, but it bears repeating: 

Most of the world’s kids walk to school by themselves starting in 1st grade. But here? Are you kidding? While the majority of us parents walked to school, today only 10 percent to 15 percent of kids do. How come?

The usual reason parents give is, “Times have changed,” and that’s true. Surprisingly, they have changed for the better.

Nationally, according to U.S. Department of Justice figures, we are back to the crime rate of 1970. In the ’70s and ’80s, the crime rate rose.

It peaked around 1993 and has been going down ever since, dramatically. So if you played outside any time in the ’70s or ’80s, your kids are actually safer than you were.

How come it feels just the opposite? When our parents were raising us, they were watching “Dallas” and “Dynasty.” The biggest crime was big hair. Today’s parents are watching “Law & Order” and “CSI,” shows overflowing with predators, rapists and maggots. TV has gotten so gross and so graphic, “I don’t think there’s a single episode of ‘Law & Order’ that could even have been shown before 1981,” says TV historian Robert Thompson.

Those scary shows — coupled with cable stations running off to Aruba or Portugal every time a white girl disappears — make us feel as if kids are being abducted 24/7. But the truth is: If, for some strange reason, you actually WANTED your child to be abducted by a stranger, do you know how long you would have to keep her outside, unattended, for this to be statistically likely to happen?


Now guess again.

Oh, forget it. The answer is 750,000 years, according to Warwick Cairns, author of “How To Live Dangerously.”

So what age can your kids start walking to school? Same age that you did. And that goes for waiting at the bus stop and taking public transit too.

The rest of the piece deals with what age kids can make lunch, learn to cross the street, and play outside.

Here in New York City, school doesn’t start for another three weeks, but it is zooming toward us faster than a science fair project  deadline. Let’s try to make this a year that our kids learn to do something new on their own.

Including, maybe, the science fair project! — Lenore


50 Responses to What Age Can Kids Start Walking to School?

  1. Kenny Felder August 17, 2009 at 7:44 pm #

    A friend of mine just told me about attending a safety seminar, given by a copy in Seattle. One mother asked what age it is safe to leave your children at home without an adult, and the policeman responded immediately, “12 years old.”

    I wish I had been there. I would not have attacked him or even disagreed with him. I would just have asked him where he got that number. Does he have any facts or statistics of any kind to back it up? I’d kind of like to hear him admit that he just pulled it out of his hat.

  2. Stephanie August 17, 2009 at 7:46 pm #

    In 1990, my rural New Hampshire elementary school decided that it no longer appropriate for kids to walk to school or bike due to the increase in traffic on the road that the school is on. While the speed limit was 20 during the hours which students would be walking, frequently cars would be going at least 45 on that road. There was no concern then that we’d be snatched, just hit by cars. Prior to that I lived in a small town in New Hampshire and we all walked to school, first grade through fifth.

  3. Marcy August 17, 2009 at 8:00 pm #

    Not only did kids not walk to our local school in Chicago, their parents would drive them the TWO BLOCKS to drop them off!

  4. Tameson O'Brien August 17, 2009 at 8:02 pm #

    Kenny, he’s not the only one…In NH 12 years old is the cut off age for YMCA afterschool care. It’s the cut off for the local daycare’s summer camp program. It’s the age the local Red Cross offers the Babysitting certificate program.

    Certainly a child under 12 might be able to handle being left home alone, but at 12 a normally developing child should be able to handle it.

  5. Lisa August 17, 2009 at 8:12 pm #

    I have been trying to make it possible for my two children to walk to and from school, which is about 4 blocks away, for years.

    Our first problem- there are no sidewalks to the school. It is a brand new building and has a great design, but there is no path from the street to the school for the kids to take. They have to walk in the drive shared by busses and hurried parents rushing to get other kids to different schools, or to work.

    Even if there were a sidewalk to the school, there is one intersection where traffic to the high school, middle school and our school converge with commuter traffic into town. It is crazy.

    I walked with them to school a couple of times to get them used to it, but traffic barely paused at the stop sign for our entourage which included a giant stroller. I could not imagine it stopping for just my kids.

    Our principal asked for a crossing guard but our town would not provide one for just one family. I asked if we could organize a police patrol ourselves at school and she looked a bit horrified.

    I gave up on letting them walk to school but asked 7th graders at our school to just walk them across the street after school to a decent sidewalk. They tried it a couple of times but were too intimidated by the responsibility.

    When I was growing up, I walked about 3/4 of a mile to school. Since 1st grade. In a city. In the 70s. Even in the cold Minnesota winters. My kids live in a small town and we live so close to school that I can almost see it from my upstairs window. There is almost nothing you can tell me that will make me think my kids are in danger from anything other than people in cars who do not expect to see kids walking to school.

    My oldest is in 5th grade this year and is going to walk to school with our neighbor. All three of my kids will walk home. My friends think I’m crazy. I know I’m just a free-range Mom.

  6. Andromeda August 17, 2009 at 8:19 pm #

    So something that I would love to see treated on this blog is — what kind of skills do kids need *before* it’s a good idea for them to do these things? I have a toddler, so obviously the extent of her free ranging right now is “being ignored while I type this comment” ;), but eventually I’ll need to, I don’t know, have her memorize our phone numbers or whatever it is kids ought to do. But when I was a kid, I didn’t do most of these things (protective parent + really I would rather have been inside reading a book anyway), so I don’t have any experience to fall back on.

  7. David August 17, 2009 at 8:20 pm #

    Stephanie, maybe instead of stopping kids from walking to school, they should ask a cop to enforce the speed limit there and start giving tickets out.

  8. Stephanie August 17, 2009 at 8:21 pm #

    There was a cop always in front of the school giving tickets, but it didn’t seem to help much. The kids that lived directly across the street from the school were even bused to school.

  9. Jennifer August 17, 2009 at 8:34 pm #

    Did anyone else check out the “recommended for you” articles that the paper generates at the bottom of the article? Let’s see. Murder-suicide, schools are unsafe, separation anxiety, and children behaving badly. There’s something ironic about the whole thing.

  10. cagey August 17, 2009 at 8:51 pm #

    I walked to 2nd grade (we had lived in the country until then). And it was a LONG walk – I lived on the far edge of the south side of town, the school was on the farthest north edge. It was several miles, at least.

    When my son was a baby, I would get SO irritated at 3:15 when all the kids started roaming our neighborhood, yelling, screaming, as they walked home.

    Now, I am grateful to live in such a neighborhood.

    When I pass our elementary school and see the bike rack crammed with all sizes of bikes, I get excited to think of my son riding his bike to school someday.

    Realistically, I will be walking his sister to Kindergarten when he is going to 1st grade. However, I do see them walking to 1st and 2nd grade together. Alone.

  11. Bernadette Noll August 17, 2009 at 9:36 pm #

    Lately there also seems to be a penchant for not just getting the kids to school but walking them into the classroom and then hanging out there for a bit. Too much! Some of the parents have to be literally shooed out of the classroom in attempts to get things started.

  12. Jen August 17, 2009 at 9:53 pm #

    When I started school, thankfully my older sister and I went to the busstop by ourselves. She’s 3 years older than me, and together we’d wait the 5-10 minutes for the bus to come. The stop was 4 houses up the street from our place, and the school nearly exactly a mile away up the road. I could walk, or bike, as I wanted too and did sometimes, but not until I was in grade three or four. All of the kids at the busstop took care of each other and watched out for each other, making sure we didnt’ slide off a snowbank and onto the road, or hollering that the bus was coming when the rest of us where running around playing and not paying attention.

    Today I live literally a block away from two schools, one public, one Catholic, and if Gabe decides later on that he’d like to try ‘real’ school instead of homeschool, I will most certainly let him walk there without me. I’ll be doing my teaching placement this year at the public school and am happy to say that I’ll be able to come home for lunch, or visit Gabe at his daycare, which is on the same block. I really love where I live but I’m sorry to say not everyone can say the same thing.

  13. BMS August 17, 2009 at 10:12 pm #

    Our school has had a big ‘walk to school’ campaign, as part of a Green Kids movement to get them to think about saving their planet and all that. Kids who walk to school on certain days get bracelets and other small prizes. This is an encouraging sign.

    The discouraging part is the parents who drive their kids to a point 3 blocks from school and then walk them from there so they can get the bracelet. Sigh.

  14. Stacy August 17, 2009 at 10:35 pm #

    Kenny – the cop pulled that answer out of local code, I’m betting. It’s not that 12 is when they’re capable, it’s that 12 is when it’s *legal* in many areas for us as parents to *let them*. Anything earlier than that and we’re risking someone calling CPS for neglect or endangerment.

  15. Kelly August 17, 2009 at 10:56 pm #

    Yesterday at my kids’ request I let them walk to a park about four blocks away, play, and come back. They are 5 and 7 and we have been slowly Free Ranging our lifestyle and allowing them more responsibility. They did a wonderful job – came home safely, carrying the water bottle and my son’s discarded socks. They were also THRILLED. And dirtier than I’d ever seen them!

    I was very proud of them and very glad for this moment. I do note that most people I know, including my own husband and mother, would not have allowed them this freedom. But the thing is – I *knew* they’d be safe. I know my children and their abilities. The only thing I worried about was some adult giving me grief or calling CPS or some darn thing.

    I have no idea if there’s a legal code in my state or not but I do know from reading this blog that many times people have assumed it’s illegal to let one’s kids out of your sight below a certain age, when it is not.

  16. Liss August 17, 2009 at 11:15 pm #

    Kenny, Stacy is right. Having spoken with Child Protective Services here in Seattle, 12 is the age that they do not get concerned about a child left alone call.

  17. Susan August 17, 2009 at 11:21 pm #

    We live about 200 yards from the school. Our block ends across the street from the front of the school. The crossing guard is one street over (on our same block, so no need for kids to cross a street). Yet, every single child on our block either had their parent walk them to school or stood outside their house until they could see their child walk into the school. Even our neighbors with fifth graders did this!

    Under peer pressure, I did this while my oldest was in kindergarten and first grade. When my girls were in kindergarten and second grade, I got laid off. I admit it was laziness (I wasn’t dressed yet, because I wasn’t going to work) that finally made me act by my convictions and let the girls walk to school by themselves. Since I was unemployed, I took them out of the after-school program, and they started walking home from school by themselves as well.

    At first, I thought all of my neighbors would be talking about what a slacker parent I was. Then a funny thing happened. All of the parents on our block started letting their kids walk to school by themselves. Another funny thing happened, the kids started walking together with other kids from our block. They started to actually get to know one another.

    It’s funny to think that I was so worried that the other parents would think bad things about me for letting my girls walk to school by themselves, but it turns out they were all so relieved that they could finally let their kids walk by themselves!

  18. rutquist August 17, 2009 at 11:23 pm #

    In the news in Sweden today: Schools and authorities are campaigning for parents not to drive their kids to school because of the risk of traffic accidents. It’s ironic that the parents’ desire to keep their kids safe actually makes them statistically less safe.

  19. Elizabeth August 17, 2009 at 11:27 pm #

    12 is the “official age” here in NJ as well that the Department of Youth and Family Services has decreed kids home alone are not being neglected. Obviously, it’s arbitrary and there are certainly lots of younger kids who can handle it, but for legal purposes they apparently have to have some arbitrary cut off, like getting a driver’s license or voting.

    I personally dislike the discussion of “what age can a child do _____” To me the most important part of free range is that you know your child and learn with them what they are and are not capable of doing. The chronological age is somewhat irrelevant. Lenore knew that her son (then 9 years old) was capable of taking the subway alone. He was and it turned out fine. My 8 year old nephew would NOT be able to do that, But I know a 4.5 year old who will probably be ready for something like that by the time she’s 7!

    Raising kids isn’t about following a recipe. It’s about paying attention to the individual person your child is and making reasonable choices based on that individual’s capabilities and skills.

    I do agree that it would be great to have a forum on this site to discuss experiences we’ve had and share ideas about how to prepare kids. Some practical tips are helpful when teaching responsibility to little ones.

  20. Stacy August 17, 2009 at 11:31 pm #

    A handy quick reference guide for “recommended” ages for unsupervised kids at home here in the USA. Note that in most of the states, there is technically no age listed (anyone under 18 is a minor who could qualify for neglect/endangerment depending on maturity level) or the recommended age is *only* a recommendation (indicated by an asterisk).

  21. bushikdoka August 17, 2009 at 11:47 pm #

    TV messes you up – which is why we got rid of it completely when our first born was a year old. He is not 7 have and we have not looked back!

    Don’t even get me started on all the crazy people with their hand sanitizers – programmed by Purell.

  22. Jennifer August 18, 2009 at 12:05 am #

    Here are our local rules (we live in Ramsey County, Minnesota) for leaving kids home alone. I actually think they’re pretty reasonable. http://docs.google.com/gview?a=v&q=cache:UtbpgnFLnfUJ:www.mnchildcare.org/pdfs/ramsey_county_supervision_guidelines.pdf+ramsey+county+when+can+kids+be+alone%3F&hl=en&gl=us

    In our neighborhood, kids from about ages 6 and up play outside in the neighborhood without parental supervision. Younger kids play outside with siblings or in their own yards. So I’m grateful to live where we do.

  23. KSB August 18, 2009 at 12:15 am #

    My daughter was walking to and from school by the end of kindergarten/beginning of first grade–I honestly can’t remember exactly when b/c it was such a gradual process–first we walked together, then she walked partway on her own, then I’d watch her. We’re very fortunate to have sidewalks and a crossing guard, and I’m so close that I can watch her all the way to crossing the street, and then she’s on school property–not that I DO, because we’re comfortable with it.

    Meanwhile, she’ll often pass by children (she likes to be early) who are waiting in front of their house to get on the bus and drive around the neighborhood for half an hour, and we have friends whose backyards open onto the school playground who won’t let their kids walk. Once my daughter had a substitute who didn’t believe she was permitted to walk home–apparently the sub followed her through the playground until she realized my daughter wasn’t faking.

    And our school has a program twice a year where children are grouped to walk with a volunteer who has to be specially trained and given a background check. Kids who participate get to sign up for special prizes. So for those weeks, she gets to choose if she wants to walk with the group–that’s the only way to get a prize.

  24. Socialwrkr24/7 August 18, 2009 at 12:18 am #

    I was so excited when I opened the paper this week and saw “Free Range Kids”!

    Now, have you heard about the kid that just completed a solo sailboat trip around the world – he started when he was 16! I meant to look it up – he was on Mike Huckabee’s show last night – but haven’t gotten the chance. Sounds pretty free range to me!

  25. Raven August 18, 2009 at 12:42 am #

    I’m here in the UK and my 2 kids started walking to school on their own when they were 7 & 8 (they are now 10 & 11) and that included walking across 2 busy junctions with crossings, plus a number of smaller roads without crossings.. And they coped just fine with it.. I will admit to following them discretely the first couple of times to see how they did, and they did just fine 🙂

    And they walk home on their own afterwards as well 🙂

    The school and other parents are horrified by the fact! But I’d rather my kids were able to cope with things like this..

    The kids school has now moved to a new purpose built premises which is closer to home and the kids will quite happily walk there in all weathers…. Yes, my kids walk in the rain and snow too (Shock! Horror! and they survive getting wet or a little cold!!!!)

    The annoying thing now is that the school insists that parents pick up the children from school after after-school activities…. So my kids fib and tell them I’m waiting up the road.. They love the responsibility of getting themselves to and from school and I wouldn’t have it any other way..

    My son starts secondary school next month and will be walking there on his own, or with a couple of mates everyday, while my daughter (aged 10) will be walking on her own to primary school..

    Both my kids love the fact that I trust them to get there themselves, plus they are allowed into town on their own as well to spend their pocket money.. In fact they consider themselves quite the ‘grown-ups’ in their classes as everyone else is either walked in by their parents, or driven in to school… And that includes the ones who live even closer than we are!

    Oh and for the final shock… I take my kids out on my motorbike as well!!!!!!

  26. KateNonymous August 18, 2009 at 12:54 am #

    Jennifer, those guidelines make far too much sense to be adopted on a large scale! Seriously, that seems very well thought-out and reasonable.

    I remember walking to school starting in the second grade. My mother walked with me a couple of times to make sure that I knew the way, and then I was expected to get there on my own, regardless of weather (that’s what winter boots and umbrellas were for!).

    However, I also remember that there was an adult crossing-guard in front of the school, which was on a main street, and older student crossing-guards at each intersection for several blocks. Additionally, kindergarteners were escorted to their neighborhoods (but not all the way home) by designated older students.

    Do schools still do that? My guess is that they don’t, but that it should be part of walking to school. It allows the younger students to gain a measure of independence, and it provides older students with leadership opportunities.

  27. teamolympians August 18, 2009 at 2:10 am #

    My 1st grader is taking a practice walk with his 5th grade sister today. School starts tomorrow.

  28. Elizabeth August 18, 2009 at 3:02 am #


    I love those guidelines. They are very reasonable and speak so clearly to the issue of how to make it safe and possible to leave children alone, not how to scare you into thinking you shouldn’t do it! LOL!

    Great link, thank you!

  29. Zahra August 18, 2009 at 5:05 am #

    I remember, quite vividly, when my mom decided I was old enough to walk part of the way to school on my own. That was 25 years ago, and I still remember sobbing my way into kindergarten because I felt pushed out of my comfort zone way too early. For me, it was too early. Other kids were managing fine, though.

  30. Anne August 18, 2009 at 5:21 am #

    I wish we lived close enough for my daughter to walk to school, but 7 miles of country roads with no sidewalk and blind curves make our free range activities elsewhere. But I did have to tell the school office that she had my official permission to leave the school building and walk to my car in the parking lot at 3pm, instead of my getting out and meeting her at the front door as so many others do!

  31. Brad August 18, 2009 at 9:16 am #

    How about a school where all they do is walk,
    Waldkindergarten, which literally means “forest kindergarten,”


    this is so free range the kids are actual free range. I doubt any of these kids parents worry about what age the kid can walk to school.

  32. justanotherjen August 18, 2009 at 9:25 am #

    Although my mom (or someone else) drove me to school most of my life (except for the few years we lived half a block from the school) I did walk home almost every day, rain or shine or 3 feet of snow. Or, as it was in high school, took the public bus for 45 minutes to get the 40 city blocks home.

    I do have to say, though, that most of the kids in our neighborhood walk to school, some with their mothers, some without. I’ve been at the public school when it gets out and it’s a mad house. there is no order to it and there are like 1200 kids all over the place. I was there one day with my friend picking up her kids. My oldest 2 got hot and bored (it was the end of June) and wanted to go home. I told them they knew the way. My 9yo freaked out at first then realized how to get home and off they went.

    My kids don’t go to that school, though. They go to the Catholic school a few blocks away in the other direction (the PS is around the corner from our house but is so overcrowded they don’t have room for my kids). At the end of last year I started letting the 3 kids walk home alone. They were 6, 7 and almost 9. But I still had to physically fetch them from the school because they aren’t allowed to walk on their own until the 5th grade (a whole ‘nother school year away for my oldest). But I would pick them up and tell them to go and they’d be home long before I got half way (or I would go the opposite way to the store).

    I’ll be doing the same this year and I’m thinking I’ll start letting them walk to school. I just worry about the traffic because there are so few walkers and those that even live across the street get hand walked to the door by their parents (I kid you not and the kid is in like 4th or 5th grade and lives feet from the front door of the school and her mom still walks her every day and waits with her). Most of the kids are driven, backing traffic up on the 3 streets that border the school. My son’s friend lives 2 blocks away and is driven every single day.

  33. Tracy August 18, 2009 at 10:23 am #

    Again, obviously, it all depends on the kid.

    I have a 13-yr-old and a 9-yr-old.

    I’d trust the younger one home for a weekend alone, if it were legal in my state, but I can barely count on the elder to make it to the mailbox and back without some catastrophe.

    The 9-yr-old has been able to cook her own meals, on the stove and in the oven, for about 2 years now. She asks me first, just to see if I have lunch or dinner planned, and if I don’t, she fixes something up for herself.

    The 12-yr-old?

    Keeps microwaving foil. Over and over again…

    * Sigh. *

  34. Celeste August 18, 2009 at 10:28 am #

    I live in a very quiet suburb in Utah and the school nearby is year round. This morning, as I was dropping my child off at daycare, I saw something that made my jaw drop in disbelief.

    My daughter’s daycare provider lives in an excellent neighborhood directly behind the elementary school. I’ve rarely seen such a close-knit group of families. But as I was driving down her street, I saw two young boys on scooters going down the sidewalk to school while their father followed behind them in an SUV at about two miles per hour. When the boys went through the opening in the fence to get to the school, the father stopped in his car (next to a few other overly cautious parents also in their SUVs) and watched the boys play on the playground until the bell rang.

    First of all, in this neighborhood, I can’t help but roll my eyes at the over-protective parents. We actually still have a huge number of children that walk, ride or scoot to this same school every day with no parents in sight. Most even walk alone or in small groups down the one busy street in the area.

    But the second thing that bugged me was that he was in his SUV, polluting the air and not bothering to take any exercise or fresh air for himself. I vowed right then that that would never be me.

  35. Stephanie - Home with the Kids August 18, 2009 at 11:14 am #

    I’m dealing with this right now. I want to let my second grader walk the 3 blocks to and from school. It’s a new school as we just moved, and I don’t yet know what they consider to be acceptable. I do know that when I picked her up today from there she didn’t get out of the gate until she could point me out to a school employee. Just not sure if that’s a first day thing.

    Probably the biggest problem is the lack of crossing guards on the one busy street. She’s not yet great about watching for traffic. She’ll get there soon, I expect.

    No way would I drive her there. The first day of school is always crazy with traffic, and today the cars of parents dropping their kids off at school were parked all the way up to my house.

  36. Karrie Andrews August 18, 2009 at 12:33 pm #

    Our school will only allow 3rd graders and up to walk by themselves. Any younger and you must be accompanied by an adult. Ridiculous! It is two blocks from our house to school and there is a crossing guard. Why are people so scared?

  37. Sierra August 18, 2009 at 12:40 pm #

    I remember when my older daughter was 3 and wanted me to make her lunch. I was busy her baby sister and told her I’d feed her in a few minutes. Well, a few minutes passed, and she walked into the room with a toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwich and asked if I wanted one.

    So I guess 3 is the age kids can learn to make their lunches around my house!

    (I did ask her to let me know in the future if she planned to use the toaster, which she usually does)

  38. Jonam August 18, 2009 at 2:02 pm #

    Good Article, lskenazy

  39. Michele August 18, 2009 at 9:23 pm #

    Here in Maryland, one Dept. of Social Services website states the following on their FAQs:

    Q. How old does my child have to be before I can allow her/him to be home alone?

    A. The fire code, the most commonly referred to law on this subject, states that a child under the age of 8 must be in the care of a person who is at least 13 years old. Generally, it is left up to the parent’s judgment to decide whether a child who is 8 or older is mature enough to be home alone. Anytime you leave your child alone, be sure the child knows what to do in the event of an emergency.

    I also found, according to Child Welfare Information Gateway (that’s a mouth full):

    Legal Guidelines

    Some parents look to the law for help in deciding when it is appropriate to leave a child home alone. According to the National Child Care Information Center, only Illinois and Maryland currently have laws regarding a minimum age for leaving a child home alone.1

    While I think that being home alone is not necessarily the ideal situation for kids, certainly there are many that are capable of it and many that are not. I think role playing with your child comes in very handy before allowing your young one to be home alone. I’ve even thought of leaving mine alone before and using a neighbor/friend to test them. Will they really answer the door if the bell rings etc. even when instructed not to.

  40. kradcliffe August 18, 2009 at 10:44 pm #

    Great article.
    Three obstacles I face:

    1. Fear for my child’s safety. He was knocked down by a car and spent some time in traction. I know how statistically unlikely some things are but that doesn’t make it easy to let go.

    2. Fear of being judged a bad mother by my peers. To allow my child to walk himself to school would look lazy and selfish on my part (this is Scotland, it rains all the time, and I’d love to remain indoors).

    3. Fear of legal repercussions. My child is not allowed to arrive at school alone. I forget what age he has to be for him to be allowed to do that… not this year, at any rate.

    So, it’s not enough to get over my own anxieties about my child’s safety and ignore feeling judged. I am simply compelled by law to hover over my child… thwuppa-thwuppa-thwuppa….

  41. Lisa August 19, 2009 at 2:24 am #

    I too would love to see a discussion of what steps are recommended to prepare kids for different free-range activities. My daughter is walking to school this year (2nd grade). It’s .8m, with a busy street to cross with no crossing guard about 1/3 of the way, then another busy street that the school’s on with a crossing guard. (and lots of smaller streets to cross along the way).

    Last year, most of the time I drove her (dropped her off at school, drove myself to the train station to park and get to work). They have a “Walk on Wednesdays” program, so for a while I would either walk with her that day (and take the bus to the train, usually making me a little late), or her friend’s mom would take both girls (but SHE would have to walk back home afterwards to get the car, to drive to work).

    That went fine, and in the spring, I found that I could greatly improve my chances of being on time to work by dropping my daughter off a few blocks before the school – we’d get to the street the school was on, then she could get out and turn right, I’d go straight. *That* worked well. Once we passed her friend walking to school (with a parent) and she asked to walk with them… I started letting her out a little further away from school, where she was likely to run into other kids. The next step was to drive her JUST beyond the busy street that I didn’t want her crossing, and let her walk the remaining .5m alone. One day I let her out at that corner, but before the busy street. I sat in my car and watched her walk over to the corner, press the button, wait for the walk light, look both ways, and cross safely. Now she’s allowed to go alone the entire way from home.

    I’d love to hear stories like that about other things: if you child is allowed to ride public transportation – what was the process leading up to that? What about allowing them to go downtown to stores or restaurants alone? Also: what tools do you give them? (cell phone? walkie-talkie? maps?) What about letting kids walk home after school – how old do you think they need to be before they can walk home and wait there until you get home from work? (and does the length of the parent’s work day and commute make a difference? My daughter gets out of school at 2:10, I get home from work after 6… I can’t imagine pulling her out of after school care for quite a while).

    Sorry about the long post… just some food for thought 😉

  42. Uly August 19, 2009 at 3:31 am #

    My nieces aren’t old enough to take trains and busses by themselves at 6 and 3, but we’re working on the process anyway.

    They can press the bell on the bus as soon as they recognize our stop is coming. Lesson? Pay attention for the stop. I’ve put Ana (the older one) in charge of telling me when we’re at our stop on the train for the same reason. I tell her what stop we’re getting off at and she has to watch for it.

    When we’re in the train station I have Ana read the signs and tell me which trains go uptown or downtown. I tell her which way we’re going, she picks out the right platform. If it’s someplace we’ve been often enough, I ask her if she knows what train (or bus) to take. Evangeline, the little one, is tasked with looking out for a particular number or letter that our train is. Lesson? Really! PAY ATTENTION! Also, everything is written somewhere.

    The point of all this is to make them comfortable to take the trains and busses alone. I suspect that the first few rides any of them take unaccompanied will be from stop to stop, no transfers, and a grown-up on each side. Or (like me as a kid) getting off at the LAST stop and walking from there to the final destination.

  43. Freak Shows! August 20, 2009 at 5:17 am #

    I think children walking to school (even when in a safe, walkable distance) is going to keep on declining. Where I live, bus service is provided for ALL children. Yet, there are many, many parents (stay at home moms included) who pack the kids up and drop them safely at the school’s front door each and every day. Not to mention, most moms are driving their children to the bus stop at the slightest hint of rain, wind, snow or “too cold” so their precious bundle doesn’t have to endure any adverse weather conditions. Imagine the horrors! Its ludicrous to see this happen year after year.

    As a child, (raised in the 70s & 80s) I walked about 1/2 mile to and from the bus stop and never once do I recall my mom or dad driving me. AND, we stood in the middle of the street to wait for our bus. Granted, it was a small neighborhood street, for some reason we chose to wait right in the middle of it. Nope, not one child ever got hit or injured by a vehicle either. We all survived unscathed.

    I say, set the children free!!!

  44. Jennifer August 20, 2009 at 9:49 am #

    My son will be a freshmen this year and I was recently told by a neighbor that I would have to drive him to school. We live TWO houses away …. TWO I say TWO!!!! She said because so many kids drive and because of the early hour and the darkness he could get hit by a car because we do not have side walks. I told her that we will take our chances.

    Come on he is a 9th grader!!!! Driving next year and college after that!

  45. Omundar August 21, 2009 at 5:52 am #

    In my elementary school, everyone except the one or two kids across the highway were bussed. The school was on property donated by one of the wealthiest families in Indiana (they own Clabber Girl and the Indy 500 to say the least); is surrounded by their property (which is mostly woods and farms) about a mile each way and borders a busy four lane highway! It was undoubtedly intended to take little, if any, walkers. There was (and still is) a fairly big hubbub over the few kids that live right across the highway and want to walk home; the procedures are built around the assumption that EVERYONE will get picked up or take the bus. Horrible!

    So therefore, I didn’t start walking to school until middle school, when I would walk home with friends for about two miles along a scenic sidewalked boulevard. It was kind of a social event. The high school was about the same distance, but the walk was more intimidating (still much more passable than my ES walk though), plus the car deal, so my friends stopped walking home. I would only walk home sometimes; the walk was really quite boring when it’s so long and there was no one to share it with.

    I don’t have kids yet, but when I do, I would love for them to walk home. Add a friend or two to the walk (or part of it) and your kid will love to do it!

  46. Jenny September 1, 2009 at 5:31 am #

    I started walking to school when I was in Middle school-it was about a mile. There were no bus routes in the neighborhood, so I had to (gasp!) go rain, shine, snow, or hail. Then, I piked up my sisters from the bus stop when I got home.

    I’m still here, right?

  47. Ana January 11, 2010 at 7:52 pm #

    My son is on the 4 grade I am totally devastated and scared of letting him walk school on his own how do I know his ready?

  48. MommyDearest February 28, 2012 at 3:11 am #

    My issue with my child walking to school by herself involves crossing a four lane street. My daughter is in the first grade and I dont think she is old enough to cross that kind of street. Her school will not provide her with a student tranpass and I cant efford for her to take the bus everyday. Any suggestions on what I should do?


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