School is back and for many families this is the big year: the year their kids are going to start walking to school alone! It’s both a scary and exciting milestone. How do we make sure our children are ready? What do they need to know to be safe?
Here is a plan to make sure you hit this milestone prepared:
1. Deciding on their readiness
You, and only you, can make the final decision on when your child is ready to walk to school alone. You can expect to see other children beginning this walk around age nine to 11 or grades 4 to 6.
Some children are less attentive and more impulsive. Some intersections are very difficult to cross safely, while others are benign and have crossing guards. You as a parent are responsible for making sure your child is street proofed and trained properly to handle the challenges of their route. The sooner you begin, the sooner they will be ready.
2. Develop safe pedestrian skills
To ensure your child is ready to walk to school alone, practice safety skills. Do they cross only at intersections? Do they watch and wait for the light to change colours at intersections? Do they look both ways before stepping into the street regardless if the light is green? Are they able to estimate the speed of an oncoming car? Do they understand that while they may have the right of way, they can’t assume that cars can see or notice them? Are they aware of cars coming out of alleys or making turns? Do they know to walk instead of run and move in predictable ways so that drivers can anticipate their direction?
Parents can use the first part of the school year to review these skills and allow their children to practice them independently while you walk behind them, but still in ear and eye-shot. If you are looking for supporting curriculum to ensure you have everything covered off, check out this website.
3. The case against cell phones
While parents say they would feel better if their child had a cell phone on them, walking with electronics creates its own hazards. Children need to pay attention to their surroundings and let’s face it phones, texting and listening to music with earbuds all distract. Electronics can also be stolen, making your child a vulnerable target.
Instead, why not consider making a plan for how your child can get access to help if they need to? Are there familiar houses on the street that they could make a call from? A gas station or convenience store where an employee could help them place a call? So many people have cell phones, they could probably just borrow one if needed.
4. Walking buses
A recent report on the activity level of Canadian children cited that we are among the most enabling of nations when it comes to driving our children around. The researchers recommend increasing children’s daily activity level by encouraging children to walk to and from school instead of getting rides.
One way to encourage young walkers is to create walking school buses. The idea is that a group of students walk together with one parent supervising the whole group to ensure safety.
Moving from a ratio of 1:1 supervision to 1:6 is a good stepping stone to autonomy and ensures your kid is getting exercise and socializing.
5. Parking lot safety
Even if you encourage your child to walk to school independently, many of their fellow students will still be getting a ride. That means that the area around the school drop-off zone and parking lot is a very busy place with poor visibility. For more accident safety advice, review the tips and information here.
6. Stranger danger
Abduction by a stranger in Canada is exceedingly rare. Most missing children have run away from home or are taken by a non-custodial parent. Still, we have to ensure our children have safety rules to keep them safe from both people they know and don’t know. Check out the safety rules I suggest here.