When kids walk to school they’re starting the day off right.
In 1969, almost half of children walked to school; compare this with 2009 when only 13 percent walked. With childhood obesity levels rising, there has been a push to get more kids to walk to school. There are even annual Walk or Bike to School Days and more. Walking — this includes biking or riding a scooter — has many positive benefits for kids, including more daily exercise and increasing independence. It also has some perks for the environment too. So, if you’re thinking about letting your tween or teen walk to school, here are some things to consider first.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says children aren’t capable of emotionally handling emergencies or unforeseen situations until between the ages of 9 and 11, or around fifth grade. Your child’s maturity is one of the most important factors to consider when walking to school alone. You can, however, begin to practice safe street behavior years before so when your child is ready they’ll be a versed pedestrian. These practices include, but are not limited to, observing the walk signs and crosswalks, looking right or left before crossing, and always checking for turning vehicles.
Does your neighborhood have busy streets? Are the sidewalks paved and complete? How far is it to school? A mile in a rural town may not seem as far as the same distance in a busy city with lots of traffic. You likely already know if walking or biking alone is a possibility for your child. Pay attention to the route he or she would take to and from school.
Decades ago, many children ran free most of the day, riding their bikes or playing outside from dawn till dusk. Not so anymore. Many kids are scheduled with activities and moms and dads take a more hands-on approach to parenting. But kids benefit from even a small amount of unsupervised time. This is when their imaginations run free, they play unscripted and socialize with peers without hesitation. If you think your child might benefit from a short period of time unsupervised, walking to school might be just the thing to boost confidence and independence.
“Overall safety is obviously the most important aspect in the decision to allow kids to walk to and from school,” said Dr. Michael Visker, a pediatrician at Alewife Brook Community Pediatrics.
The preparation process can allow you to have larger discussions on health and personal safety topics, such as street and sidewalk safety, how to deal with emergencies, and who would be an appropriate person to ask for help.
“By preparing them for and eventually allowing children to walk to school you can help foster growth of independence,” Dr. Visker said. “ It also allows them to continue to work on and develop the social and problem-solving skills they need for later on in life.”
For additional tip on how to foster your child’s independence, speak with their pediatrician.