Tips for Walking to School

Aug 22, 2012

Walking to school can be a healthy option for you and your kids, but it also requires some street proofing. Introduce your child to basic road safety at an early age to avoid dangers like speeding cars and unsecure crosswalks.

Jacky Kennedy, founder of Active and Safe Routes to School  -- an organization that works to promote active school travel in Canada -- notes that parents are responsible for preparing their child about road safety. She offers a few suggestions on what both parents and children should know about walking to school safely.

  1. Start early. Jacky suggests teaching children about pedestrian safety once they start walking. Take them out on frequent walks and discuss what to do in possible situations. Educate them about how to use the crosswalk and why to look back and forth when crossing the road.
  2. When can they go alone? According to an American pediatric study, children don't fully develop the cognitive skills to safely cross the street until the age of 10. They notice a car's colour before its speed, and it's difficult for them to assess whether the car is moving. Jacky says it's up to the parents to decide. "The parent knows the child the best and they can decide how safe they think their child will be," says Jacky. Once they're more knowledgeable, Jacky suggests walking your kids half way. "As their confidence builds, they'll probably tell you that they can handle it," she says.
  3. Adopt a buddy system. Jacky suggests children walk with "walking buddies," like a sibling or a friend. Organize community walks with a group of children and have parents take turns walking the kids to school. "The larger the group of people walking, the more careful the drivers are," says Jacky.
  4. Choose the best route. Discuss possible walking routes with your child and pick the one that works best, says Jacky. Map out the cross points and the stop signs. Also, speak to your child about how to avoid possible road dangers.
  5. Point out landmarks to look for, like crosswalks or traffic signals. Point out the houses of people you know so your child can go there if they need to.
  6. Store away the electronics. Explain that electronics like iPods, cellphones and MP3 players should stay in their bag while walking to school. Also, explain that wearing earphones or texting while walking is distracting.
  7. Stay alert. Stress to your children that it's important to be alert and aware of their surroundings. Explain that they need to always be prepared and follow safe habits such as crossing at crosswalks, crossing with crossing guards, looking before crossing the street and stopping at the light.

Originally published in ParentsCanada, July 2012.

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