While you may have walked to school from a very young age, children these days are often walked or driven to school until they are well into their teens. This may leave you questioning what age your child can walk to school by themselves. This is tricky because the law doesn’t specify an age when a child is allowed to be out unsupervised. In this post I’m going to suggest some things to consider and some ways to prepare your child to walk to school alone.
What Age Do Parents Think a Child Can Walk to School Alone?
To research this post I decided to run a poll in my local parenting group on Facebook to see at what age people think it’s ok for children to walk to school alone. While many people mentioned that circumstances had an impact on the decision, the majority, by quite a long way, felt that between 11 and 12 was the right age. This ties in with around the age children are either in the last year of primary school or the first year of secondary school. Out of 88 votes cast, no one thought under 8s should walk to school alone and only person felt 8-9 year olds should. 10-11 was the next most popular choice, only four people felt that children should be over 13 to walk to school alone.
Personally, my vote goes to the between 9 and 10 year olds. My son is 9 and in year 5 (he’s summer born so wont turn ten until year 5 is pretty much over) and he’s been walking home from school alone or with friends since the start of year 5. I still walk to school with him but this is because I’m walking his seven year old sister to school anyway. Just three other people felt this was the right to walk to school unsupervised, which didn’t particularly surprise me as my free range approach to parenting means my children generally have more independence than most.
Lost of people who responded to my poll commented with the circumstance that impacted on their choice of age, below I will highlight some of the considerations that can impact on the age a child can walk to school alone.
Distance to school
We are very lucky to be just a five minute walk away from our school but obviously this isn’t the case for everyone. For some parents school is several miles away and so walking to school alone won’t ever really be an option. For others the journey is walkable but takes an amount of time that means their child would be alone for longer than they are comfortable with.
The Journey to School
If the journey to school involves crossing roads where there is a lot of traffic this can really put parents off letting children walk alone. We have a fairly busy road right outside of our house and when I first started letting Boy Child play out I used to see him across the road and then go and collect him when it was time to come in. I trusted him to play alone but the road worried me. There may also be other concerns about the journey to school that make it harder for children to walk alone. Deserted subways, roads without proper pavement or having to pass through areas that aren’t very friendly can all impact of the decision about when a child can walk to school alone.
People to Walk With
Most parents are far more comfortable with a child walking to school without them if they are with someone else. This might be an older sibling or a group of friends who all walk together. While there can be downsides to walking in a group (like peer pressure to do something they know deep down isn’t sensible) being in a group can make them less vulnerable to approach by strangers which is what lots of parents worry about when allowing their child outside alone.
Your Child’s Maturity
An awful lot of the decision comes down to your child. Do you trust them to behave sensibly and do they have the maturity to deal with it if something unexpected happens? While these things generally increase with age it isn’t an absolute. There are plenty of younger children who are mature fo their age and plenty of older children who retain their childlike innocence for far longer.
If you do want your child to have the chance to walk to school alone and you live somewhere that it’s possible, here are some things you can do to help prepare them.
The first steps towards walking to school alone often happen naturally when your child starts to walk a bit ahead of you or a bit behind you on the school run. You can encourage this and also help them become responsible by setting boundaries about how far ahead or behind they can be. When you’re ready you can start to allow them to meet you outside of the school or just walk part of the way to school with them. This can be a good way of giving them some independence before they are ready to cross any roads on the journey.
If you live too far from the school to walk you could also consider dropping them off a bit further away so they can walk the last bit.
Teaching Road Safety
Being able to cross a road safely is a massively important life skill. While most schools provide some road safety training its a good idea to start teaching your child yourself, as young as you can. A great way to do this is letting them decide where you should cross and then talking about why it is or isn’t a good place. You can then progress to letting them decide when its safe for you all to cross. When they are consistently making good decisions you know they are ready to cross alone.
Developing their Independence
If you aren’t quite ready for your child to walk to school alone, you can always start helping them develop their independence in other ways. Allow them to be out of your sight for short periods of time at soft plays and parks. Ask them to go up the aisle ahead of you in the supermarket to pick something up. Even letting them play alone in their own back garden can help them get used to being unsupervised. There are lots of tips in my post about introducing free range parenting in everyday life.
Keeping Them Safe
When they are ready to walk to school alone, you’ll want to set some rules to keep them safe. They’ll need to know not to talk to strangers, to only go to and from school and most importantly, what to do in an emergency. While a lot of children will have mobile phones by the time they walk to school, some wont, and even if they do, they might still end up without them.
My children know that if they need help they should approach a mum or Dad with kids. If they get home and I’m not in, they should knock at our neighbour’s house. If someone tries to take them somewhere, they should scream their heads off and not worry about being polite because the person is an adult. These might seem scary things to talk about but if a child is mature enough to be out alone, they are mature enough to be aware of the things that could go wrong.
Top Tips for Preparing Your Child to Walk to School Alone
- Wait until your child feels ready to walk alone, if they aren’t really it won’t be a positive experience for them
- Speak to other parents who walk the same route as you and see if you can arrange for your children to walk together
- Discuss different scenarios that could potentially happen on the way to school and plan how they could handle them
- If you think you’re going to worry, time the route so you know what time to expect them home
- If you aren’t ready for them to walk to or from school yet, you could practice by asking them to do small errands for you like delivering something to a neighbour or posting a letter in a nearby postbox
If you’d like some more ideas about how to make sure your child out is safe, have a look at my post about the rules for playing out safely. The NSPCC also has some useful guidance about children being out alone.
Hopefully this post will help you decide when your particular child is ready to walk to school alone. I’d love to know what age that is for you in the comments.
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