Walk the Walk
How do you know when your child is mature enough to walk to school alone?
One of Brookline’s greatest character traits is that it’s a walking town. Public transportation and convenient footpaths and walkways heavily criss-cross Brookline’s terrain.
We all know the many benefits to walking. It promotes a healthy lifestyle, a smaller carbon footprint, and can be much easier on the wallet. And for many of the youngest Brookline residents, it’s a first step towards independence.
The neighborhood school system does not provide residential school buses, and a good number of students march to school every day, in every kind of weather, on their own. My children have been at Brookline schools since second grade, and I began noticing some of their classmates walking to school by themselves as early as the third grade.
My husband and I love the idea of our children walking to school. It brings to mind images of Mayberry and Opie, and our own fond memories of ambling to school with friends and neighbors, laughing and fooling around while our book bags dragged along the asphalt.
But now that our children have reached an age where they can walk to school on their own, it’s the darker visions of lurking dangers that cloud our minds, and we find ourselves wanting to wait another year, or maybe even two, before cutting this particular apron string.
How do you know when your children are mature enough to walk to school on their own? And how do you prepare them for this solo responsibility? Read on for some answers to the second question. If someone out there has some experience or advice regarding the first question, please let me know in the comment section below.
Here are some safety tips for walking to school:
1. Plan a safe route and practice it together in advance: Plan the most direct route to school with the fewest street crossings. If the school has an adult crossing guard to help the children at a busy intersection, instruct your children to cross with the guard. Walk the route several times with them until they know how to do it safely.
2. It's an absolute must for children to walk with a buddy, and the larger the group the better. There’s safety in numbers. If part of the group contains an older student, that’s even better.
3. Teach your children the following pedestrian safety rules:
- Walk on sidewalks, if available. If there are no sidewalks, walk on the far left-hand side of the road, facing oncoming traffic.
- Beware of cars pulling out of driveways.
- Cross the street safely:
- Be sure that children younger than age 10 cross with an adult.
- Always cross at the corner and in the crosswalks, if available. Do not cross in the middle of the block or between parked cars.
- Follow the traffic signals, if available. Know the meaning of the signs for walk/don’t walk, and the green/red lights.
- Stop at the curb before crossing. Look left, right and left again to make sure no cars are coming. Cross when the traffic is clear, and continue to look left and right for cars while crossing.
- Never accept rides from strangers. (Have a secret password someone must use if you've asked them to pick up your child.) If someone follows you or bothers you, scream for them to get away from you and run to the nearest house or store for help.
Keep in mind that the greatest danger is for children younger than 10 because they’re less aware of their surroundings. They are more likely to dart out into the street and their small size makes them less visible to drivers.
For more information on walking to school, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s KidsWalk-to-School website and the National Center for Safe Routes to School website.