Do you think your kids are ready to walk to school alone? I’ve got some tips for you.
School is back in session, and for many families, this will be the first year that their children will be making the trek to school alone. This is both an exciting and scary milestone for families, and we need to make sure that our kids are ready and safe during this big transition. Madison recently started a new school, and though her school is less than a five-minute walk from home, I also needed to share some safety tips with her to make the trek to and from school as safe as possible.
If you’re on the fence about whether or not it’s a good idea for your child to walk to school alone, or you’re just not sure if you’re ready, here are some tips for you.
Assess If They Are Ready
Only you can make the final decision when it comes to assessing your children’s readiness to walk to school by themselves. Some children may start to walk around at ages 8 to 11, but that doesn’t mean yours are ready at this age.
In truth, some children are more impulsive and less attentive than others. With some intersections being more difficult to walk across safely, this could be worrisome. If you feel your children are responsible enough and respectful of the rules, a busy crosswalk may not worry you. You are responsible for ensuring that your children are appropriately trained to handle any challenges they may face along their route. The sooner you start, the sooner they will be ready to tackle this task on their own.
Another aspect to consider is their maturity level and ability to follow basic safety rules. If your child does not yet understand the importance of pedestrian safety or if they have trouble following simple rules, they may not be ready to walk to school alone.
Start Small & Build Up
If you’re not sure whether or not your kids are quite ready to make the journey to school on their own, start small by accompanying them part of the way. For example, if they typically take the bus to school, you can walk with them to the bus stop a few days a week. Once you’ve determined that they are able to make it to the bus stop safely, you can gradually start walking with them for shorter and shorter periods of time until they are making the journey on their own.
The same process can be applied if your child is going to be walking to school. Start by accompanying them part of the way, and then gradually start walking with them for shorter and shorter periods of time until they are making the journey on their own.
If you live close to the school, you may want to consider having your child walk with a group of friends. This way, they can support each other and stay safe along the way.
Choose the Safest Route
Once you’ve decided that your child is ready to walk to school alone, it’s important to sit down with them and map out the safest route possible. If there are any busy intersections or areas with a lot of foot traffic, be sure to point these out and come up with a plan for safely crossing them.
It’s also important to make sure that your child knows how to properly use any crosswalks or pedestrian signals along their route. If they don’t yet know how to do this, be sure to practice with them before they set out on their own.
Another safety tip is to make sure that your child is aware of any “safe havens” along the way, such as a store or office, where they can go if they feel unsafe at any point.
Be sure to walk the route with your child a few times before they start making the journey on their own, so that they are familiar with it and know what to expect.
Prepare for the Unexpected
Even if you’ve taken all the necessary safety precautions, it’s important to be prepared for the unexpected. Be sure to talk to your child about what they should do if they get lost, or if they see someone following them.
It’s also a good idea to equip your child with a cell phone or other form of communication in case of an emergency. If you do this, be sure to go over how and when they should use it.
You may also want to consider investing in a GPS tracking device, such as an Apple AirTag, so that you can keep track of your child’s location.
Set Some Ground Rules
Before your child sets out on their own, be sure to set some ground rules. For example, you may want to establish a rule about not talking to strangers. You may also want to set a rule about what time they should be home from school.
It’s also important to go over what they should do if they see something suspicious or if they feel like they are being followed.
Be sure to have a discussion about the importance of following the rules and staying safe. If your child is old enough, you may even want to consider having them sign a safety contract that outlines the ground rules and consequences for breaking them.
Establish a Check-In System
Before your child starts walking to school alone, be sure to establish a check-in system. This may involve having them call or text you when they leave for school and again when they arrive.
If you have a GPS tracking device, you may also want to set up alerts so that you know if your child deviates from their usual route.
Be sure to talk to your child about the importance of checking in, and make sure they understand that they should let you know if anything changes along the way.
Check In With Their School
If your child is going to be walking to school, be sure to check in with their school first. Some schools have rules or regulations about students walking to and from school alone.
You may also want to provide the school with a list of emergency contacts, in case they need to get in touch with you for any reason.
Be sure to ask the school if they have any safety tips or suggestions for when your child is walking to and from school.
Prepare Them For The Walk
To make sure that your little one is ready to travel to school alone, it is essential to practice the safety skills they will need to get to their destination safely. Let them take the lead and observe their behavior along the route; do they look both ways before crossing the street? Do they watch for signals to change? Make sure that your kids understand that while the walk signal may be there, they can’t assume that all cars can see and notice them, and the best thing they can do is be cautious.
Parents should spend some time reviewing these skills with their children to allow them to practice them independently while you follow close behind.
Talk About Parking Lot Safety
While you may allow your children to walk to school alone, many of their friends will still be getting a ride. This usually means that the area around the parking lot and drop-off zone is a bustling place without excellent visibility.
Make sure that you encourage your children to practice appropriate safety measures, even on school property, and stay away from the parking lot. If they need to cross, make sure that they walk in front of stopped cars, not between them.
Be There To Greet Them After School
Even if you’re not able to be there when your child arrives at school in the morning, try to be there (or have someone else you trust to be there) when school gets out. This way, you can ensure that they made it to school safely and are on their way home. If possible, it’s also a good idea to review the route with them once they get home so that you can point out any areas where they may have deviated from what you had discussed.
Encourage Them To Walk With A Friend
If you have more than one child, they may be old enough to walk to school together. This can provide some safety in numbers, and it also gives them someone to talk to along the way. If your child is an only child or their friends live too far away to walk with them, see if there’s a neighbor or family friend who would be willing to walk with them occasionally.
Know The Signs Of Stranger Danger
One of the most important things you can do to keep your children safe is to teach them about stranger danger. Make sure they know never to accept gifts from strangers or go anywhere with them without your permission. Review basic rules like not talking to strangers, not getting into a stranger’s car, and not going anywhere without telling you first.
Have A Safety Plan In Place
Make sure to have a safety plan in place for your children. Always make sure they know what to do in case of an emergency or a stranger approaching them. Each individual school route and family will have different measures in place, and these are determined by a variety of factors. The most important thing to remember is that you have something in place in case your little one feels unsafe in any way.
If your child is old enough to walk to school alone, congratulations! Allowing your kids to walk themselves to and from school for the first time can be a scary experience, especially for parents. This is a big milestone for them and a sign that they are growing up. While it may be tempting to just send them on their way, there are a few things you should do first to make sure that they are prepared for the journey. By following these tips, you can help your child stay safe while they walk to school and back each day.