Letting Kids Walk to School
School had already started here in Switzerland when the ‘walk to school’ debate started in the US in September this year. It was partly initiated by an article in the New York Times ‘Why can’t she walk to school?’ The story featured a mother who let her 7-year old girl, a second grader in upstate New York walk a block and half to school. Friends, neighbors, and families were just horrified at this apparent “lack of judgment” on the part of the mother.
In the part of the world where I live in, walking to school is the norm rather than the exception, and moms who chauffeur their kids to school, the so-called Mama-Taxis, are considered a traffic hazard frowned upon by school authorities, traffic officers, and other parents.
Why Parents are Afraid
Walking alone, even in familiar territory, presents danger to little children. The story of Little Red Riding has been our guiding lesson at a very young age. Kidnapping, pedophilia, bullying, and traffic accidents are just a few of the reason why parents would practically delivery their children right at the school doorstep and pick them up the same way. We’ve all heard the horror stories over the years of abductions and murders that have occurred.
However, because of these fears, parents would, according to the NYT, watch over their kids with unhealthy paranoia. Examples of these behaviors are:
- Parents and children sit in their cars at the end of the driveways to wait for the school bus.
- School buses are fitted with surveillance cameras.
- Parents drive to school with their kids’ names on the dashboard and children are individually escorted out by a school staff.
- People who see kids walk to school alone call the authorities.
- Parents who let their kids walk to school alone are reprimanded and are threatened to be charged with child endangerment.
What are the Benefits of Kids Walking to School?
- Walking to school builds character – It’s my kids’ way to independence.
- Walking prepares kids to navigate the world – Some experts believe that children who are chauffeured to and from school are not prepared to navigate the outside world.
- Walking is healthy – Lack of physical exercise is one of the major factors that contribute to chronic health problems and obesity in children these days. Walking to school give kids the chance to get physical exercise, get some fresh air and sunshine.
- Walking is cheaper and environmentally friendly – Gasoline is expensive and driving adds to air pollution. According to the traffic officer, a lot of traffic accidents involving children happen because of the traffic hazards presented by Mama-Taxis.
With these things in mind, I give some tips as to how I got my kids ready for walking to school.
Make sure your child is ready -I rehearsed with my kids several times before school started. On the way to school, they have to cross the main street which is usually manned by 2 traffic guards during school days. However, they have to learn to cross on their own, just in case the guards aren’t around. If your child doesn’t feel too secure about walking alone, then walk with him or her until she gains confidence.
Choose the safest way – The safest way is not necessarily the shortest way. I showed my kids to take a way where they aren’t exposed too much to vehicular traffic. However, I did check it out several times, paying attention to hazards such as steps, dogs, water, insufficient street lighting etc. that they might encounter along the way.
Once they grow older and more street wise, I’m sure they’d take the shorter route. But that’s years away from now.
There is safety in numbers – I always emphasize this to my twin boys. They go to separate classes but they have similar schedules and the rule is: wait for each other. It is advisable that your child walks with other children even if it means making a detour. Talk to other moms and pool your kids together.
Leave the wheels at home – Bicycles, skates, and scooters, leave them at home until the kids are old enough. The safest way to get to school is walking, even though it may not be the fastest.
Make your child as visible as possible to motorists – Reflectors on jackets and school bags make children more visible to drivers. Kindergarten kids in Switzerland are required to walk the streets with some sort of reflector vests.
Do spot checks – I have to admit it. I spied on my kids during the first few weeks of school just to make sure they are alright. I also try to observe their behavior while walking. Are they being careful? I have stopped spying on them since but I do spot checks from time to time and tell them ‘I just happened to be nearby.’
Let go. And don’t feel guilty – I know a lady who’s been waging a battle for the last couple of years against her daughter, her daughter’s teachers, and her fears. She was traumatized as a child when she witnessed a friend fatally ran over by a car on the way to school. I can imagine how difficult it is for her to let go and let her daughter walk to school alone. But we cannot protect our kids forever. And we shouldn’t make our fears their fears. We have to let go at some stage, and we shouldn’t be feeling guilty either.