Walking to School

There comes a time when all children want to stretch their wings and take that step that seems to terrify most parents today: Walking to school on their own.  It used to be the norm, with our grandparents reminding us how they walked to school for five miles each way in the snow in only their socks, and even my own experience growing up in a major city (Toronto) in a mid-town neighbourhood was that I was walking to school on my own in Grade 2.

These days that seems to be unheard of.  The problem is when us parents get so used to overseeing even the smallest of things our kids do and then don’t know how to let them go after; suddenly they’re much older and it seems like they should be doing these things on their own, only we’ve never taught them how and the idea of letting them go free is terrifying.  When my stepson was in Grade 2, I don’t think he could have headed into the playground without a parent having shown up, much less walked home on his own.  However, at some point along the way, he had to learn and it was in everyone’s best interests to make sure he learned it safely.

Here are three important tips to help you in the process and make sure everyone stays safe.

1)      Walk with friends.  If your child attends a neighbourhood school, chances are other kids walk to school too and this is the perfect opportunity to have your child build up friendships by walking to and from school with other kids.  It may be kids of the same age, or even better, get some of the older kids in the neighbourhood to be the ones to oversee the walking.  When you have older kids involved, you can ask them to make sure all kids are accounted for in the mornings and heading home.  However, even without older kids, having your child have a walking buddy is good for their safety and also their social well-being.

2)      Tail them.  You can practice all you want for that first walk, but it’s honestly going to be different for your child when they actually do it without the safety net of mom and/or dad with them.  Just because they think they’re on their own, however, doesn’t mean they necessarily need to be.  The first time I headed to school alone, my mom had arranged for a neighbour who was walking her child to the same school to follow me and keep an eye on me.  I was none-the-wiser, but it definitely made sure I was safe and if something had gone wrong (it didn’t), I would have had a responsible adult there to help me out.  That first year of walking by myself built up my confidence in myself and my abilities, and yet my mother could rest easy knowing that there was another adult out there keeping an eye out for me.

3)      Prepare for all circumstances.  I’m always surprised how many parents I talk to who go over the route to school (or wherever) over and over and not once cover what to do if their child gets lost.  I know the assumption is that if you’ve done the route enough then your child shouldn’t get lost, except we know that it doesn’t always work out that way.  I have taken many a walks as an adult where I was convinced I knew the route only to find myself daydreaming and on a street I had not planned on being on.  Our kids are no different, only if we don’t prepare for them this possibility, they become panicked and will likely fail to approach the safest people for help.  They need to know who is safe to talk to, who can help them, and how to reach you in case they are lost.  Here is a great site on child safety with tips on the matter.

All in all remember this is a rite of passage for your child.  Try not to let your anxiety make your child more nervous.  Be prepared and celebrate their growing independence, and remember: The more confident you are in your child, the more confident your child will be.

By Tracy Cassels

August 11, 2014