When do you allow your child to walk to school by themselves? If you have free-range children you may have them start earlier than others, however, it's not always your decision alone. Often when deciding when a child can walk to school by themselves the school needs to be involved too.
This is a situation where we can say "it depends". It depends on the child, the distance, the school. However, I have found that in my community there is a general consensus that for many children it is around Year Five or when the child is 10-11 years old.
I recently spoke to the head of our school specifically about children walking to school independently. He mentioned that typically this starts in Year Five, is initiated by the parent or the child, but he has experienced two occasions where a member of the public has taken it upon themselves to walk a child to school because they didn't feel it was safe or appropriate for the child to be out walking alone. The child lived two blocks away, much closer than we do and the child was the same age as my son Caspar.
Our school is supportive of children in this age range walking to school and their procedure is that if they or any student isn't at school or reported sick/absent by 9am, the parents are telephoned. Excellent, this is what I wanted to know, if for some reason my child doesn't make it to school, I will be called.
At 10 years of age, I find Caspar is yearning for this level of independence. With a few rules in place, by taking it slowly and reviewing it, I feel we can offer this independence and that it is not only appropriate but beneficial for him. This is the autonomy that he needs. Here are a few things that I feel are important:
- Ensure the child has one clear route they are to follow.
- Practice the route and be aware of any tricky parts like crossing roads, make the most of pedestrian crossings.
- Be organised so the child has all their belongings together and feels calm not rushed before leaving the house.
- Ensure the child is dressed appropriately. I don't want a cold or wet child. Our school has a rain jacket, beanie, wool gloves, and a base layer as part of their uniform so the kids need to remember to wear them, or put a rain jacket in their bag, there's no such thing as bad weather!
- Ensure the child knows what time they need to leave the house and/or hit certain landmarks to reach school in time.
- Have rules such as no catching lifts or going to friends houses. We allow Caspar to stop in at the bakery but unless he has previously asked he isn't to go into any other shops.
We don't yet allow Caspar (10 yrs) to walk to school alone. He currently walks to school but blocks ahead of Otis, Otto and myself. If he was unsure about something, or someone, or was worried or hurt himself he could just wait and we would catch up, or he could turn around and walk back to us. Caspar has an earlier start time than Otis and to be honest when they walk together they fight, so this really works for us.
Even if we continue walking this way, after all, we all need to get to school, there are so many benefits. It doesn't suit every family or every family circumstance but it has allowed us not only physical health benefits but the benefit of becoming familiar with our new community. We walk through our village centre and we often see the same people every day and each time we build on the friendship, we make a connection, even if it's just a 'good morning' or 'how is the baby today?'. It's this everydayness that makes it special. We also learn about our neighborhood, the wildlife, and the seasons.
Let me know if you have any tips or if you have been through this process.
Relevant articles that I've found useful: