Friday, 5 September 2014

What age do kids walk to school on their own?


At what point does the adult in this picture disappear?
The new school year has started, and Littleboys 1 and 2 are now at the same school. This makes dropping off/picking up much easier for me; however, building works at the school now means that parking has become even more chaotic than usual. So as always, it's a challenge.

We can walk/cycle to school from our new house, although it's a brisk mile and a half steeply downhill; fine for going, not so great for the way back. But we are already talking about whether the boys could do it on their own in future, which brings me to the subject of this blog post -- what IS the right age for kids' to walk to school on their own?

Expat Mum touches on it in her latest post, and it's a subject we often discuss at home. The Doctor is always telling me how, at the age of seven, he was travelling across central London on his own to school, by bus and tube. This was the late 70s; apparently he was the only boy in his class doing so, but when his brother, six years older, had done it in the late 60s everyone did it.

But it's not just a generational thing; different countries have different expectations. Our friends in Norway tell us that their 11 year old not only walks a mile home, she lets herself in and does her homework for two hours until her parents come home from work. Apparently this is completely normal over there.

I was talking to some mums recently and the consensus was that 10 was about the right age. But is 10 old enough to also be supervising a younger brother? And does it make it better, or worse, to do it with a friend? (The idea being that if they're with a friend, they're less likely to concentrate on things like crossing the road).

So I'd love to know what everyone else's kids do and whether they're doing it on foot, bike, scooter, public transport or in the car, with you as their taxi service. Because, while I enjoy walking my kids to school, I don't want to be chauffeur forever.

14 comments:

Fourdownmumtogo said...

Very interested in the answer to this because as of Monday I have two separate school runs to contend with.

Jen Walshaw said...

I think it depends on your kids and the area. My boys are 8 and 9 and walk to and from school on their own. I am going to admit that I was the first mum to let them and there was a lot of raised eyebrows and gossip about it, but they are fab lads and really sensible (I had health issues which meant I didn't have a choice). The village we live in means that they cross the only main road with a lollipop lady and the jungle drums beat really fast and I know as soon as they do something untoward

Wendy said...

My daughter was 8 and in 3rd class (Grade 3) when we let her walk home from school. At first she had to walk with a friend who lives near us. Now she is allowed to walk home alone. However, we live less than a km from the school and she doesn't have to go near or cross any main roads. She also knows I have many mum friends who will ring me if they see she's being a messer.
So far it's worked out great and she loves the independence. Hubby still walks her in the morning along with our youngest as that's his time with them (and she hasn't asked to walk herself in the mornings yet).

I doubt if we were still living where we did in Canada that I'd let her. It just feels safer for some reason where we live in Ireland.

Conuly said...

The older niece was walking to school by herself in the third grade, and from school by herself in the 4th and 5th, except that in the 4th grade we had to actually pick her up at the school first. It certainly wasn't worth the squabble with them to have her go home alone entirely.

Her sister attended a different, also local school from 2nd grade on (complicated, boring story), and she walked partway to school with her sister and partway by herself starting in the third grade, last year, provided she ONLY crossed the two main intersections WITH the crossing guard. Which she did. Her school let out earlier than her sister's did, and so she walked home with me.

The two schools are only ten minutes apart from each other, walking, but they have entirely different demographics and entirely different cultures. At one, most kids are driven there, and they have a little more money, and so they don't walk anywhere and the parents line up in the car line at least an hour before school lets out rather than parking a little further away and walking. At the other the parents have less money and live slightly closer, and so most of the children walk and it's very common for them to walk on their own by third grade or so. At the first school, the school kicks up a HUGE fuss if you try to have a sibling pick up your kid (I've witnessed this), at the other that's routine and nobody cares and they can't imagine telling the parents they can't have that option.

And this is in Staten Island, of course. This year nobody is walking to school, we're homeschooling to avoid our zoned middle school, which is AWFUL.

For context, I did not walk to school until the fifth grade (which would be 1994, middle of the year), and my father always walked me to the bus. But we lived really far from the school until then, and I was a pretty oblivious child. However, my sister was walking halfway home from her dance class after dark, a distance of about 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile before our dad caught up with her and escorted her the rest of the way, by the time she was in the 6th or 7th grade. While she did that, I spent about half an hour to 45 minutes sitting alone at home.

conuly said...

With that said, have you ever visited FreeRangeKids.com?

ADDY said...

I hadn't appeciated you were now in London - we are almost neighbours! As to your question, I think it really depends on the kids, the area and the route to school. My daughter was about ten when we let her walk the mile to primary school without adults, but with a friend. By the time she went to secondary school, the school was so far away, I used to give her a lift to the bus-stop to cut down the journey a bit and often a lift all the way to the school. So it varied.

Iota said...

Depends on the kids and the area. I think supervising a younger child makes it more complicated, as you say. What would happen in the case of an accident? Do you want to load that responsibility onto an older child?

In my bit of America, it was completely normal to leave a 10/11 year old alone at home. 12 year olds routinely do babysitting - that's the age they were able to do Red Cross training. That was one cultural divide I couldn't cross.

My oldest used to get a school bus on his own at the age of 8. That sounds young, when I say it here, but it was a very safe village, and the bus journey was 5-10 mins to school. The stop was a 3 minute walk away. I would watch him leave the house and as far as I could see him (which was almost to the stop - though the stop itself was out of sight). He only had to cross one very small side road, and we had rules about going up it a few yards so that he wasn't crossing right at the junction. We had rules about coming home if the bus hadn't come by a particular time. There was usually another mum at the stop. I think having strict rules, and trying to foresee problems and what to do in those situations, is key. Obviously on a 1.5 mile walk, it's hard to foresee everything, but if you're doing the walk with them frequently at the moment, you can be building up their experience. "What would you do if...?"

Also, if they have a phone, I think that helps. Gives them confidence and you too.

Iota said...

Conuly - can't believe that parents spend an hour sitting in a car so that they get a good parking spot. They need to get a busier life! (Or perhaps they're all writing novels or running phone businesses while they're sitting in the cars?)

Expat mum said...

Well, we've had five days of my 11 year old walking to and from school on his own and he loves the responsibility. We got him a talk and text phone, which he leaves behind most of the time. One day it was thunder and lightning so I ran up to school with a rain coat, to find that he walked home (on the other side of the road so I didn't see him) and we both got soaked. Now, the rule is that if it's pouring and he doesn't have a coat, I will come to school.

Was Living Down Under said...

I've been waiting to see the responses before replying. We live in a fairly suburban neighbourhood and the walk to school is all of ten minutes so I imagine that by the time she's 10 my oldest will go on her own (and probably supervise the younger two). That being said, it would depend if I could be confident that her younger brother will listen to her when he's six. Currently he's a bit of a wild card.

We were 11 and 9 when my mum let us walk to school. It was an urban environment and there were lots of people on the street. Unfortunately there was one day that we were approached by an elderly gentleman offering us candy and then asking me some lewd questions. I remember grabbing my brother's arm and pulling him along to school. My brother wondered why we couldn't just take the candy and then leave. Mum never let us walk alone after that :) There were loads of children taking the bus/subway and walking to that school on their own so I think it was an anomaly that we were approached that day.

Kit said...

Interesting to read the responses and imagine what we'd do, if we didn't have to drive 30km to school every day. We'll have to wait until our oldest passes his driving test and somehow gets his own car before we have anyone going to school on their own!

conuly said...

"Conuly - can't believe that parents spend an hour sitting in a car so that they get a good parking spot. They need to get a busier life! (Or perhaps they're all writing novels or running phone businesses while they're sitting in the cars?)"

Some of them do it while ferrying younger siblings. I used to see it every day, and I *still* don't believe it! Really? You're gonna make your wide-awake three year old sit in a car seat for an hour? When you're not even going anywhere?

Apparently the answer to that question is yes.

And if these parents showed up late and double parked on a busy, single-lane thoroughfare that has a 4-times-an-hour bus running through it, and got ticketed (as you do), they would complain! Loudly! Oh, the injustice!

Every time they tried complaining to me I said the same thing: Park two blocks away and walk. Your legs won't fall off. Your kid is not incapable.

(I wasn't terribly interested in being nice to people who think they shouldn't get in trouble for double parking under those conditions.)

nappy valley girl said...

Iota and Conuly - I'm certain mums a our school turn up really early to get a good spot. I've seen them sitting in their cars reading or on phones.

Addy - lovely to hear we might be neighbours! If you send me a message (nappyvalleygirl@gmail.com) I'd be happy to meet up sometime!

Metropolitan Mum said...

I was six and at the time lived in a pretty rough area of Germany. Think Germany's answer to the dodgy parts of Croydon. I was scared and I think it was too early. I cycled to school when I was seven. On my own.
Looking back, I think my mother was totally bonkers to let me go on my own...