Years ago it wasn’t uncommon to see kids walking to school. However, nowadays people are far more wary about children walking to school alone. This is because there is far more traffic and the media convinces us there is an increase in danger.
Despite this, most councils in the UK recommend that children can walk alone to school from the age of 8. If you’re wondering if your child is ready and what age can child walk to school alone, check out this simple guide on how to prepare your child for walking to and from school.
Why is it Good to Walk to School?
With all the worry around safety, should children walk to school? Walking to school can have some extremely healthy benefits for your child. As they grow older, accepting responsibility and being given chances to earn trust can nurture independence in your child. Walking to school is a great opportunity to pose this challenge to your child.
7 Benefits of Children Walking to School Alone
Exercise gets the brain working
Walking to and from school gets the blood moving around the body, meaning more oxygen reaches the brain. This helps to dissipate the stress hormone, cortisol, leading to a calmer child before school. It also releases endorphins and dopamine, which give your child a sense of reward and feeling of happiness as they embark on their school day.
Walking combats obesity
Our nation has an epidemic of child obesity, causing a myriad of health problems. Walking to school encourages exercise, helping to strengthen muscles in your child and drop unwanted fat.
Walking saves money
With your child walking to school, you no longer need to spend money on petrol for driving or public transport.
You get extra time in the morning
As you no longer have to accompany your child to school, you don’t have to worry about managing car rides. Instead, you can focus on your day to come, or enjoy a coffee to yourself!
Walking instils road safety sense
Kids need to learn road safety. Children need to know how to cross roads unaccompanied and navigate their way to certain locations. Walking unsupervised forces them to watch out for danger, helping them to learn the skills through practice.
Walking fosters environmental stewardship
Petrol-based travel is very bad for our environment. By walking to school, your child learns eco-friendly habits that are transferrable in life.
Walking nurtures independence
Children need to learn responsibility, which means as parents, you need to let them have responsibility. Letting your child walk alone grants them trust, enabling them to develop a sense of accountability and personal responsibility. This could even provide a reward mechanism for you to recognise them as trustworthy.
Legal Age to Walk to School Alone
Technically, the law doesn’t state a minimum age limit for children walking to school alone. That said, most councils and local authorities recommend 8-years-old as a good time to start the process of learning to walk to school alone.
Some councils employ statutory walking distance, which entitles children to free transportation if they’re outside the suitable walking distance. This is a good measure of suitable walking distances for your child. Appropriate distance is outlined to be 2 miles for children up to 8 years old and 3 miles for 8 and above.
Ultimately, only a parent knows if their child is ready to walk to school alone. To test this, give them small tasks like walking to the shop or fetching something from an aisle in a supermarket. Have your child walk to a friend’s house or collect dinner from the local takeaway. That way you can get a measure of their readiness.
Walking to School Alone Tips
When considering the prospect of letting your child walk alone to school, you’re probably scared to death about the possible dangers that can occur. Preparing your child for dangers ahead of time will help to ease your mind — you can also relieve some pressure by researching walking home from school safety tips.
Here’s a list of our top 10 walking home from school safety tips:
Purchase Bright Clothing
While a black coat might be ideal for keeping the dirt at bay, it may stop your child from being seen by traffic. Make sure that you purchase a coat that can be seen by cars at night time. Choose a bright colour and try to opt for something with reflective material. Alternatively, if your child’s school uniform denotes a dark coloured coat, you can sew on reflective patches or add reflective and luminescent accessories to your child’s bag.
Get Up to Scratch with Road Safety
If you’ve never run through road safety rules with your child, now is a good time. If you’ve already been teaching these, run through them with your child to make sure they understand.
Make flashcards for the different signs, like a green man, zebra crossing, pelican crossing etc. Test them on what they know and fill in the gaps of what they don’t. If they’re unfamiliar with anything, showing kids always works best — take them for walks around the neighbourhood to show them what to look for and how to behave.
Walk the Route Together Beforehand
To instill confidence in your child about walking to school, walk the route with them several times beforehand — use the summer holiday as a chance to do this once or twice a week. Point out landmarks, notable houses, memorable businesses, and other unforgettable features. In doing this, your child starts to know the route off by heart but also knows how to correct themselves if they’re wrong.
Why not try a few different routes to see which is the quickest or easiest to remember.
Choose the Safest Route
Of course, it seems obvious to choose the safest route, but this allows you to monitor your child’s road awareness too. Having walked the different routes together, talk with your child about which course they perceive to be the safest. Run through the different tasks they’ll have to complete on each route, such as crossing busy roads or finding a zebra crossing.
Try to pick the walkway with the least number of busy crossings. Try to look for crossings that have traffic lights and opt for streets with fewer cars. Seek out roads with streetlights and ensure that your child isn’t using pathways with low lighting or few by-passers.
Have an Alternate Route Planned
If your child does get into trouble for any reason, or can’t follow their regular route, you need to have a backup in mind. Make sure your child knows the alternative walk home as well as they know their primary route. You don’t want them to get confused if they’re already having the stress of taking a detour. Make sure you set up a system where they alert you if they have to take the other route.
Brief them on Stranger Danger
As we’ve become quite an empathetic society, people often talk to children in the street. As pleasant as this is, it can be confusing for young children who aren’t so savvy on which adults to trust. Talk through different scenarios with your children and give them safeguarding measures if they feel unsafe around another adult — never go with a stranger, call if they are worried, go back to school to find an adult etc.
Make Sure They Have a Working Mobile Phone
The mobile phone debate goes back and forth, but having a phone certainly gives you a point of contact for your child. It also means they can call you or the police if they feel threatened. If you choose to give your child a mobile phone, give firm instructions on usage as not to run up the phone bill. Explain that it is their responsibility to keep it charged and to notify you if they need topping up.
Install all emergency phone numbers into the device and put them on speed dial just in case your child needs help in a hurry. Run through the procedure of dialing 999 for a real emergency.
Identify Safe Spots
If your child gets in trouble on their way home or they are having difficulty contacting you, they may need a safe place to go to ask for help. On the way home, make sure you point out some safe places that your child can seek help — this relieves them from having to ask a stranger. Try speaking to your local newsagent, cafe, coffee shop etc. They will no doubt be happy to help your child if they’re in a fluster.
Enforce a Strict No Headphone Rule
Listening to music and walking can be quite meditative, which is exactly the reason it’s a bad idea for children. Road safety demands a good working order of all senses and for children to stay alert. If they’re listening to music or podcasts on headphones, they won’t be able to hear oncoming traffic, which can be extremely dangerous.
Buddy Systems and Walking Buses
There is indeed safety in numbers. Having children walk together helps them to remember the directions more clearly — while they can each watch one another’s backs. It also means that if your child goes missing, it will be noticed immediately. Find neighbours who also have children walking to the same school. Group the kids up together so they can be responsible for one another.
Another idea to start is a walking bus. This is especially good if you’re worried about the walk being completely unsupervised. Parents take it in turns to walk large groups of children (up to 10) together in pairs. Children are picked up from their houses along the way. That way you only have to do the school run once a week.
Safe Routes to School
Allowing your child to go to school on foot can be a real privilege, fostering independence and trustworthiness. However, if you want your child to walk to school safely, you’ll need to not only ensure they know road safety rules, you’ll want to pick a route that sets them up for success.
Identifying safe routes to school can be tricky. Luckily schools are often hot on walking to school safety and can give you local information on streets to avoid when planning your route. If you’re planning a course to go to school on foot, consider these points:
- Use residential streets with less traffic
- Find roads with low speed limits
- Avoid alleyways
- Avoid unlit areas
- Use routes with lots of shops and landmarks
- Use well-populated areas
- Avoid routes with scary dogs
- Try to design a route past other parents’ houses
- Choose less busy crossings with lights and signals
- Choose roads with bus stops in case children need to leave quickly
- Avoid roads without pavements
In general, when councils rate the ‘suitability’ of child’s walk to school safely, they suggest considering traffic flow, the presence of adequate footways, visibility, and opportunities for road crossing.
If you’re wondering what age a child can walk to school alone, UK law doesn’t have any strict rules. However, guidelines suggest that if you’re considering letting your 8- or 9-year-old walk home alone from school, you’re starting at the right time.
In reality, your child should have no problem walking to school alone if you have safe routes to school prepared. Make sure your child knows them well and has emergency procedures in place if they get in trouble. Identifying safe spots, safeguarding them with a mobile phone, and employing a buddy system are all great ways to create a safe walk to school.
If you’re having trouble working out the best route for your child to walk to school, check in with school for tips on the local area. And always have an alternative course planned, just in case something goes awry.
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