Don't Be Scared of Walking to School (or Even the Bus Stop)

Filed under: Opinions

Have you noticed that a whole lot of kids don't walk to the school bus stop on their own anymore? Their parents walk them. Or drive them. In gated communities, so help me, they golf-cart them. And then they all wait there together until the bus comes. The parents do, finally, putter off after that.

On the way home, many school districts play it just as overly protective. A pre-designated caregiver must be waiting at the stop or the child is driven right back to school. Rachel Whitten, a Kansas mom who'd like her kindergartener to be allowed to get off and walk three houses down by himself, was told that if no one meets him once, she'd get a written warning. Twice, a phone call. Third time? The police would be summoned.

So that's the bus stop story. But then there's the even more obsessive non-bus-stop story: Plenty of school buses now pick up children directly from their homes. Often enough, the kids are waiting in the family car. Mom or dad drives them from the garage down to the sidewalk, to keep them from getting too hot, or cold or kidnapped.

And finally, if you're sitting down, we can discuss the 50 percent of kids who are chauffeured door to door each day, even to schools just a few blocks away. Drop-off is, of course, a traffic nightmare. Parents, panicked about tardy slips, speed and swerve. Kids leap out. One pedestrian organization, PedNet.org, estimates that half of the kids hit by cars near school are hit by cars dropping other kids off at school. And yet, parents keep citing "safety" as a reason they drive their kids themselves.

No one said parents always make sense.

But drop-off is nothing compared to pick-up, which can involve a gym full of kids waiting indoors while a school employee stands at the head of the carpool line outside, barking into her Walkie Talkie.

"Letty's mom is here!," she yells. Letty is then plucked from the gym and hustled into her car like an unpopular dictator.

Next! The whole process can take half an hour and is quite the production.

What's bizarre about all this is that walking to school is good for kids. It's safer than back when we parents were doing it -- remember, crime is down since the 1970s and 1980s. And a whole bunch of studies are showing that kids who get exercise are not just slimmer and trimmer, but they concentrate better.

"We're trying to make the new norm walking," says Lauren Marchetti, director of the National Center for Safe Routes to School, which gives advice on how to start the transition from driving to walking or biking. "We want people to think 'Good parents have their kids walk.' "

It's weird that we have to re-normalize a healthy, happy, normal part of childhood. But it's even weirder that it's become normal to drive our kids from the garage to the bottom of the driveway.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.