If you grew up in the UK, 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 UK 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 in the UK?
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.
What Does UK Law Say about When a Child Can Walk to School Alone?
There are no laws in the UK that cover when a child can be outside alone and so there is no legal age when a child is officially allowed to walk to school alone. If you’d like some official guidance, I’m some cases your local authority may have guidelines and individual schools often have policies they prefer parents to follow.
Things to Consider When Deciding if Your Child Should Walk to School By Themselves
The reason there is no law relating to when a child can walk to school alone is because everyone’s circumstances are different. Below are the things you should take into account when making your decision.
The 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.
If your child is keen to walk to school but you aren’t sure if they are up to the distance you could always try some family walks at the weekend to help them build up their stamina. At worst they’ll realise that you’re right and it really is too far for them!
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.
Preparing Your Child to Walk to School Alone
While you might not be ready to let them walk to school alone as soon as they ask, you can start preparing them for it quite early on in their school life.
Start with Baby Steps
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. In the early days you could walk that but with them so that it becomes familiar for them.
Teaching Road Safety
UK roads probably are busier than when you were a child. 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.
If you’ve previously driven your child to school you’ll want to do some trial runs or walking it with them before they walk alone. If this isn’t practical on school days you can give it a try at the weekends.
If you have options regarding the route you take to school, here are some points to consider:
- Avoid alleyways or poorly lit areas
- Choose well populated areas over quiet ones
- Avoid roads with narrow on no pavements
- Choose roads with pedestrian crossings
- Choose roads with lower speed limits
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.
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
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.
What to Do if Something Unexpected Happens
I’ve told my children that if they need help they should approach a mum or Dad with kids as I know fellow parents are always happy to help a kid in trouble. They also know they can get help from a shop, policeman or knock at any house where they know the resident.
If your children are used to be driven to school and don’t know the area that well, it’s worth considering learning a back up route in case they get lost. While getting lost shouldn’t present a big problem if they have a charged mobile phone, we all know that kids forget their phones and even if they have them, they aren’t always charged.
While my intention is always to be in when they get home from school, we’ve put plans in place in case I’m not for any reason. If they get home and I’m not in, if they have a phone, they can ring me. If they don’t, or I don’t answer, they know should knock at our neighbour’s house and failing that, walk to their Gran’s or a friends.
Dealing with Stranger Danger
Hopefully your children know not to talk to to strangers and certainly not to go anywhere with them. You’ll want to be clear that they shouldn’t go anywhere with anyone on the way home from school, even if they know them, and should always come straight home unless they have spoken to you first.
I’ve thought my children that 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.
If they feel like they are being followed and they have a phone they should phone you. If they don’t they should head towards areas with people in and ask someone for help.
Essential Rules for Keeping Children Safe on the Way to and from School
- No Headphones – You can’t hear traffic and other dangers with headphones in
- Take your phone if you have one – and keep it charged
- Walk with friends if you can – Stranger danger is higher if you are alone
- Wear bright colours – this makes crossing roads safer but unfortunately often doesn’t work well with school uniform
- Come straight home – Don’t go anywhere else without permission
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. You might also be interested in when you can let your child play out unsupervised.
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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