If I Walked Uphill Both Ways to School, Can’t My Kid Walk Four Blocks?

155298745I come from a family of paranoid people. It’s not so much that the glass is half empty; it’s that you should really put a napkin over that glass in case a fly accidentally drowns in it. Fireworks are loud with a chance of starting on fire, and driving in the rain is a hasty break away from hydroplaning to your doom. Dancing while pregnant is ill advised because… wait, I don’t think a reason was given when I was yelled at across a reception hall to, “Save the baby and sit down!”  Cars crash, planes explode and lawnmowers shoot dangerous shrapnel right into your eyes..

This would eventually effect how I was parented.  But as it was also the early 80s, it became a strange tapestry of anxiety meets early “free-range” parenting (back then, it was just called “parenting.”)  I was free to go wherever I pleased, but never forget the ALL ENCOMPASSING DANGER every car, stranger, and dark cloud contained.  So imagine me at 7, gangly with poorly cut bangs, hyper aware of every crack in the sidewalk while I walked myself to school.  I was free! Though, certainly not stress free.

Now I am a mother with children of my own, trying to navigate my feelings on what my children should be able to do independently and when, with news reports and my inherited fear whispering “never!”  I do consider myself to be more reasonable about potential dangers, because I am aware statistics are actually in my children’s favor when it comes to safety.  Also, my husband is one of those “Come on! We did X,Y or Z and lived and they will too!” guys, so he is a good balance. So it is interesting to that neither of us seem entirely confident about whether our 8 year old can walk home from school alone.

She began to ask to walk home alone in the fall of this school year. In kindergarten and first grade, this was not an option. Every child must be handed to their designated adult at the door, no exceptions. In second grade and beyond, however; kids are released without teachers, and the protocol for how you get home is more open ended. However, to my knowledge, no one in second grade walks themselves. In fact, it appears that very few kids in the older grades do either. The parking lot is often filled beyond capacity, despite the fact that many children live in the immediate area. I pass moms packed down like camels in multiple backpacks and lunchboxes, because no only can’t our kids walk, they also can’t apparently carry anything. It looks a little crazy, but that’s coming from the mom who wakes up her 1 year old to go pick up her child from a school four blocks away.

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  • Paul White

    I walked about 1.5 miles to the bus stop when I lived in Colorado.
    I’ve got a coworker who doesn’t want her 17 year old senior in high school daughter walking 5 blocks from school to her house.
    I just can’t wrap my mind around that way of thinking. At all.

    • Guest

      It is odd. Nowadays my parents would be arrested for all kinds of craziness, that was perfectly normal when I was a child. No one thought twice of allowing kids to ride their bikes 5 miles from home (although I grew up out in the country). What I don’t understand is how children are supposed to handle any situation if they are always protected. There are certain situations that warrant extreme oversight, however, you learn by doing not by having someone constantly tell them what the correct choice is.

    • Rachel Sea

      A friend of mine won’t let her 16 year old walk the 6 blocks from school, or stay home alone. I have no idea what will happen to this kid if her mom doesn’t beat the cancer she is currently fighting, because none of the adults she might go to will be interested in raising this her until she is 30, and finally ready to drive herself to the store without a bodyguard.

    • Aldonza

      My Mom started leaving me alone for very short bursts when I was six or so. She had a cellphone the size of her purse, and never did it unless the next door neighbor was home, but it was never a problem. My brother was two years older, but never “watched” me. By the time I was 9 or so, we never had a nighttime babysitter. I started babysitting at 12, actually. All of that was the norm and never seemed weird. I’m grateful that my parents gave my brother and I a chance to be independent and make mistakes, because we learned from that.

    • keelhaulrose

      I had about the same walk to school, though I could shave a good chunk of it off if I cut through a cemetery. My parents never cut me any slack about it, either, unless the weather was dangerous. Bus service wasn’t an option.
      I don’t get the parents that won’t let their kids walk short distances. I once saw a mom drop her kid off who lived in the line of sight of the school… why not just watch them if you’re that worried?

    • Shea

      My parents used to allow my friends and I to ride our horses in the hills above our homes when we were eleven or twelve. It was pretty isolated, just trails, and the only rule was we had to have at least one other kid with us, no going alone (in case of an injury). This was before cell phones, and evidently no one thought twice about it.

  • Walking school bus

    A Walking School Bus might work for you and your neighbors, where neighborhood kids walk in a group with a parent or two with them–like a carpool, but walking. I know parents who had a rule that their children had to walk to school with supervision a set number of times before they could walk alone (maybe 20 or 30 times?)–one child who really wanted to do it convinced them to walk with him on the weekends too. This was for a third- or fourth-grader with a 1/2 mile walk, one busy street that has crossing guards before/after school.

    • scooby23

      I have heard about this before and it sounds like a really good idea.

  • Bethany Ramos

    I remember walking to school bus stops all the time in the 90s, and I would walk miles to my friends’ houses to hang out because I had nothing better to do with my time. It comforted me to read in Free Range Kids (I love that book!) that crime is actually on the decline these days, and from what I remember reading, the 90s were a time when crime was at an all-time high. Pretty interesting.

    • Jill

      I have fond memories of riding bikes with my friends to the nearby McDonalds and the strip mall…yes there are dangers but some of those are important lessons. For example, my friend fell off her bike in front of a car in the parking lot. Scared the crap out of all of us but made us all more cautious that any conversation with my mother could have.

    • Jessica

      We walked all over the place too, and got into all sorts of trouble (or should have) and those memories are some of the best for me! But when I think of her as 8, I think I feel she is younger than she is maybe? But I want her to have those memories too, so I need to figure out how to balance it all out in my head!

  • http://www.twitter.com/ohladyjayne allisonjayne

    I was a 30-45 minute walk from my elementary school (2.3 km, which is apparently just under 1.5 miles). We had school bus service up until I was 8, after which we walked – in groups. My friends and I would walk together and made sure we were all safe.

  • AW

    If there are other moms with kids on the block, have you considered linking the kiddos up in pairs? I was allowed to walk to and from school by myself in the third grade, but had to do it with another girl who lived on my block who was also in the third grade. Every morning my mom would give hers a quick call to coordinate when we were actually going to exit the houses and then we would meet on the sidewalk and go together.

    • Jessica

      I am going to try to coordinate some buddies! And then maybe stalk them from afar! ;)

  • kay

    I live pretty close to the elementary school my daughter will eventually go to… It’s super walkable, and honestly walking is faster than driving with traffic at the school. But it’s across a busy street. I’m not sure when I can let her cross that without seeming like a terrible parent (like, it’s technically a state highway I think?)

    We had two older kiddos next door (one 2 years older, one 6 years older) and I was pumped that they could walk with her, and I wouldn’t have to. AND THEY FRIGGING MOVED. I’m sad my plan was spoiled. I am hoping for older neighbor kids by the time she’s in school (right now we’ve got drastically older and her age… not helpful)

  • Kay_Sue

    Especially if you can get your neighbors involved, I think a four block walk would be fun and a little freeing too. We live close to our school (and are hopefully moving closer to his next school–fingers crossed!!) but our school aged youngster is still too little for us to worry about this yet. Although I do sometimes enjoy walking to pick him up instead of driving myself, actually, lol. ;)

    Hope you guys can come up with a plan that lets you get some much needed rest from the constant drop off / pick up! :)

    • kay

      There are some schools in my area that have started walking school buses or biking “trains” where parents take turns leading and have an established route to school… it’s like a school bus I think in the sense that kids join along the route, and keeps the congestion around the school down while making parents feel like their kiddo is safe

    • Kay_Sue

      I’ve seen these, and I think they are a great idea. We doing have any at our school (that I know of), but my mom works for a different school in our district that has several organized ones.

    • Jessica

      I like this walking school bus plan! I am going to look into this!

    • kay

      Here’s some more on them: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/226865
      The info is from the city of Portland (where I live) but has things on setting up a a walking bus and bike train that would be useful anywhere!

  • Pedestrian

    For some parents worried about walking, it’s less about irrational STRANGER DANGER fears and more about that our communities have grown so car-centric that even short distances are difficult to safely navigate on foot, even for grown-ups. Pedestrian deaths are up in my community, among many others. I understand the “In my day…” comments here, but the walking environment was different then.

  • Mila

    I would have danced over to the yelling person and grinded up on them pregnant belly and all.

    • Paul White

      Eh, we’re about 8 blocks from my son’s future elementary school and you don’t have to get near a major road for it. I forsee walking to school/home in his future.

      Yeah, if you live across a major 6 lane road don’t do it, but most of us…still don’t.

    • Jessica

      My Nana really has a strange view of what “shaken baby syndrome” means! Poor old lady…

    • Mila

      How did this end up on this article? Whoops

    • Mila

      NM Confusing myself :)

  • Toaster

    It’s still a few years before my kids are even in school but it seems like just when I get comfortable with the thought of them walking to school by themselves we get some creep in a truck trying to lure kids over right at the elementary school. AHHHH. Someone usually tries this once or twice a year in the city but it’s not usually at the school closest to our house..

    • Jessica

      I live outside of Philadelphia, and I just have to block out the news sometimes or I would go nuts. I hope they catch the creepy truck guy long before your kids are in school!!

  • Lackadaisical

    I think that you will never find a definitive answer as it depends on the kid, the journey and you. My eldest walked himself to school at 8 and it sounds a similar distance. We did that because his younger siblings always made him late to school and I followed the same route with them 5-10 minutes later. At 10 everyone who lives on the same side of the main road that runs through our suburb walks themselves and everyone on the other side doesn’t. I have never ever heard of a secondary school kid (11+) being walked but some get dropped off in cars as a way round it. I live in the UK and so it may be different where you live. I walk my son home as I pick up siblings at the same time but on the night he stays an hour later with a club he walks home on his own. I found it helped to let him race ahead on his own the first few times so that I could see him but he felt he was on his own but I had the excuse for following him of taking younger siblings to school. That was more for his confidence than mine.

    • Jessica

      That’s basically what we do in the morning because my oldest is very type A and my kindergartner likes to dawdle and talk to squirrels and dogs and her brother. We get to the point that she is ahead of us, but I can still see her. It’s been good practice!

  • Sam Inoue

    I never walked to school by myself when I was young, but that was because I was generally in foreign countries where I would only be living for a short time, so I mostly had tutors. When my niece came to live with me the idea of letting her walk anywhere seemed really scary because I was always sort of scared out of it. Now that I have two school age kids they walk together and sometimes they walk back together unless the older one has afterschool stuff. I try my hardest not to be super paranoid, but its hard to shake.

  • Fuzzy Dolphin

    Children should not walk alone

    unless they’re packing a concealed gun

  • Lindsey Sweet

    I know it’s probably over kill, but this is exactly why I got my DD a cell phone. Just a little cheapy, no internet, ect….it really helped not being worried all the time, knowing she had that phone on her. Not that it would probably help if something *DID* happen, but it made me breathe easier. Hope you find a solution that works for you guys!

    • Jessica

      The manager of a store here was telling me about getting her first grader a cell phone and having her call it and talk the entire way to school because something happened where she couldn’t take her. If it works, it work! Thank you!

    • JLH1986

      A friend did something similar. One of the carriers had “kid” phones that only had like 3 numbers to call or text and 911 to call. Couldn’t receive/send other calls. Her kid had to walk I think 15-20 blocks to school. He had to call/text when he got to school, when he was leaving school.

  • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

    …I would have said 8. That’s how old I was when I started going to the park alone, and my mom started allowing me to go to the store. 10 was when she started trusting me in the house without her when she went to the store.
    Have you considered asking the other neighbour moms if they want to start a buddy system so the kids can walk together without you?

    • Jessica

      I think that’s going to be the plan. Once we move out of our awesome rain, fog, rain, mixed precipitation, ugly season here in PA, I think there are a few kids that would make good buddies to walk with. That way I won’t have to worry if her friends are driving due to weather.

  • CrushLily

    When I was 9, we lived in Japan. Japan is a very safe country, but tall blonde girls do not go unnoticed. To get to school, I was required to walk to the bus stop, take a bus, get off, walk a little way to a different bus route and take that bus to the school. I would then reverse the journey to get home. Up until then, I had never taken the bus to school, only walked and my school had been up the street. My mum went with me once the first time and after that, I had to do it by myself. I did not speak any Japanese beyond simple greetings. I remember the first time I did it I took the bus in the wrong direction, but I worked it out.
    By the end of the year there, the bus drivers all knew me and used to wait for me if I was running late. I had also figured out an alternate route that meant I only had one bus to take but a lot further to walk – however, I could use the bus fare I saved to swing by the French pastry shop and pick up a delicious chocolate-filled croissant. I still think of those croissants!
    These days, people think my Mum was crazy to let me do that, but I guess she had faith that I would be fine. And I always was.

    • Jessica

      That’s a really awesome story! You learned all kinds of resilience and math skills / money management too! I would have totally figured out a route that would lead to delicious snack as well. I am glad you had that experience and that it was positive. :-)

  • Momma425

    I lived .5 miles away from my high school and walked to school frequently. I usually walked with my neighbor from across the street, and when my brother was old enough, he joined us as well.
    I can understand why a parent would not want their child to walk to school, alone. Here in washington, it is DARK at 7am when kids start leaving the house, and it usually pouring down rain to boot. Walking with a friend is one thing, but

    • Momma425

      *shoot, I posted that before I was done typing. Walking alone is different than walking with a buddy, and I can understand why some parents are uncomfortable with that.

    • Jessica

      Oh god, if we added darkness on top of the equation, I might never let her go! :-) But I agree- I think if I let her go, its going to have to be with friends.

  • SC Belle

    My oldest is 12. She probably could walk home from school. It’s not the distance (it’s not that far) but there are no sidewalks. It is not a really “walk-friendly” area, I guess. I trust her to know how to cross the streets properly, even though there are no crossing guards, and to stay out of the road but I cannot get the image of that 12 year old girl (her name was Carlie) years ago, I think from Florida?, who convinced a friend’s mom she could walk the few blocks home alone after a sleep over and she was abducted and murdered(the abduction caught on a car wash camera). I just can’t do it. My kid is not allowed to be out alone. She can go to the local park, walk in the mall, and stores, etc as long as she is with a friend, her brothers, another person. Say what you will. I do not know how old she’ll have to be before I let that go. I am not a helicopter parent but there are some things I will not compromise. I have already lost one child. I will not take unnecessary chances with the children I still have here.

    • Jessica

      First, let me say I am sorry for your loss. I cannot comprehend the loss of a child, and I am sure that never leaves you and does effect how you will parent your other children. I am also haunted sometimes by the Jessica Ridgeway case, where she was kidnapped walking to school and internet commenters really took her mother to task for letting her walk alone (she was in 5th grade.) I also think you are doing what’s right for you- keeping your daughter as safe as you can, and giving her some freedom with her friends and brothers. I don’t think that is helicopter-ing at all. I can see where you are coming from. Thank you for sharing.

  • Muggle

    A few months ago, an 11-year-old girl was abducted waiting for the bus outside one morning, and sexually assaulted. Fortunately she was returned to the bus stop, but the guy still hasn’t been caught. This happened close-ish to where I live, and it’s really rural out here/there. and stuff like that is not at all common here, either. It’s scary. I’m not letting a child wait out at a bus stop by herself/himself if it’s so far from home. The girl’s bus stop was quite the hike, IIRC.

    And because it’s so rural, unless I move into a house right next door to a school the kid is going to have a looooooong walk. In high school I had to drive HALF AN HOUR to get to school, and out here it would be an even longer drive. So the concept of walking to school is a very foreign concept to me anyway, but I’m terrified at the thought of letting a kid walk to school alone.

    If I lived close enough and the kid was with a few friends/neighbors, fine, but not in the circumstances most people are in where I live.

  • val97

    Both my kids have been walking themselves to and from school since 2nd grade. It helped my peace of mind to follow them (without their knowledge) the first few times.

  • leezee

    I walked from kindergarten through high school (with the exception of the year and a half I was bussed when Detroit enacted that ridiculous experiment). I usually walked with a sibling or a group of friends. I loved that part of my day. Recently, though, I drove through a small town near where I live and was caught behind a school bus that literally stopped every 300 hundred yards to pick up kids for school. At each stop, parents either had their kids in the the car while they waited or waited alongside the kids outside. I had to think to myself, “why are they using buses at all if the parents have all this time to shuffle the kids to the stop? Why don’t they just drive the kids to school or walk with them?’

  • SusannahJoy

    I walked home (about 4 blocks) from kindergarten. It wasn’t really an option for my mom to pick me up. I am going to try to not be paranoid with my son, but we’ll see. He slept in a little late this morning (7:15 instead of his usual 6:30), and I had to stop myself from panicking that he’d died in his sleep. I’m hoping that’s just postpartum crazy hormones and that’ll go away…

    • Jessica

      It will! Well, mostly! I still check my toddler occasionally, but I leave the older two alone. :-)