Parents who live near their children’s school often grapple with the difficult question of when (if ever) to allow their kids to walk to and from school without an adult. Balancing safety and independence is no easy feat, especially when tragedies such as the recent murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky in Brooklyn, N.Y. re-emphasize that a child's single solo walk could — however rarely — end in a parent’s worst nightmare.
To help you make your own decision, we surveyed Circle of Moms members on the appropriate age for letting a child walk to or from school alone. Here are their thoughts on what to consider.
1. Evaluate the Type of Walk
Evaluating the type of walk your child would take to school is the first step in making this decision. Is it two blocks or a half mile? How safe is your neighborhood? Are other children and parents walking along the route at the same time? As Jen K. relays: “I let my oldest start walking home alone in the 2nd grade, he only had to walk half a block without his three other friends…We only live three blocks from the school and it takes about 5 minutes for them to get home. We have a safe neighborhood with lots of parents and kids walking home at the same time, and that helps me allow them their freedom and sense of independence. I have to let them learn that at some point.”
Not all moms arrive at the same conclusion, however. As Jacqui H. stresses, many locations around the world simply are not safe for a child walking alone: "If it was just around the corner, NO. He is 9 years old and in South Africa allowing your child to walk to school is not an option. It simply is not safe.”
In addition to stranger danger, moms like Marcelle P. point out that car traffic is a real threat for young children whose peripheral vision is still developing: “It is only at the age of 10 or so that they develop peripheral vision, i.e. the ability to really see out of the corner of their eyes. This is a problem if they have any roads to cross.”
2. Consider Your Child’s Maturity Level
“How will your child handle an emergency situation?” Tammi B. asks. “Is your child emotionally able to handle himself responsibly?” She’s one of many moms who suggest appraising your child’s maturity level and personality very honestly before allowing an adult-free walk. As Jodi A. contends: “Some kids are naturally more mature and perceptive than others, so are more ready to be walking on their own.”
For many moms, including Keri R., going through this kind of honest appraisal leads them to the conclusion that their children aren't ready for solo walks. As she explains, “My son is going into 5th grade. I do not let him walk. For one thing he would get lost. He is not good with direction.”
Joy R. expresses a similar opinion: "I won't even let my 6-year-old ride the school bus, because I don't trust her maturity level when it comes to her getting off the bus in the drop off area in front of the school and then walking straight to class."
3. Opt for Group Walks over Solo Treks
If you are leaning towards allowing an adult-free walk, many Circle of Moms members suggest forgoing an entirely solo walk in favor of a group trek. As Jamie C. shares: “My child is 9 and I let him walk 4 blocks to school but he walks with a group of 5 kids. I never let him go alone.”
Natalie H. agrees: “I would not allow my child to walk home alone. I live in Omaha and feel there is too much crime (even though I am in a suburb). However, if my children were to walk as a group and the [other kids] were, say, 10 or older, I would consider it.”
Have you let your child walk to or from school alone yet?