October 29, 2014
If you only live a short walk from your children's school, the day will inevitably come when they are trusted to undertake the short journey by themselves.
As a parent, I understand that it can be difficult to let your children walk on their own to school, or even just to the bus stop, without constantly worrying about their safety. Charity Living Streets report that 44% of parents worry about their children's safety on the school run, but there are things that can be done to ensure their journey is as safe as possible.
The benefits of walking to school
Although it is natural to feel nervous about letting your children walk to school alone, allowing them to do so will benefit your children in several ways;
• It will give your children some much needed fresh air while also increasing the amount of physical activity they do. It is recommended that children exercise for at least 60 minutes per day.
• With the charity Living Streets reporting that one in three children will leave school overweight, walking to school rather than driving is a positive step towards reducing this figure.
• Before children take the step of walking to school alone, walking to school with a parent or carer provides an opportunity to teach and develop road safety skills.
• Walking to school is less stressful than driving.
• Walking reduces the dependency on cars, and can encourage an overall healthier lifestyle for our children.
• It is a way of reducing traffic congestion and pollution, especially outside schools.
• Children who walk to school are likely to be more alert and aware when they arrive.
• Walking to school will also increase your children's independence and social skills.
Driving versus to Walking to school
There is no denying that traffic poses a danger to pedestrians, regardless of their age. But it is important to put this danger into context as accidents can still happen if your child is a passenger in a car.
For example there were just over 24,000 pedestrian casualties reported in 2013. While this may seem like a large number, it's actually less than a quarter of car occupant casualties which were almost 110,000 in the same period.
Another reassuring fact is that the number of pedestrian casualties under 16 years old has been steadily decreasing for the last four years across Great Britain as a whole.
|Year||Age 0-4||Age 5-7||Age 8-11||Age 12-15
Data from www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/357321/ras30026.xls
Education and Planning - what you can do
For your peace of mind, it is advisable to work out the safest route and practice it with your children before letting them walk to school on their own. You need to be sure that they know where they're going, that they are aware of any potential dangers on the way, and you need to make certain that they will stick to this same route every day. In some residential areas, traffic calming and 20 mph speed limits are becoming more commonplace so, if you are able to, it is sensible to plan your child’s walking route along these roads.
Warn your children of the danger of talking to strangers, and perhaps see if they can walk to school with a friend who lives nearby rather than alone. If they walking with a friend, however, explain the importance of staying sensible; chasing each other or play fighting could lead to accidents.
Make sure that they know how to cross the road safely. This includes checking thoroughly for oncoming traffic, using dedicated crossings (Zebra, Pelican, Lollypop etc) and highlight the importance of being alert; they need to understand that parked cars may still pull away at any moment.
Finally, make sure that your children wear brightly coloured clothing so that they can easily be seen, and in the winter, ensure that they have reflective gear and torches, if needed.
Working with your School and Community
There are plenty of initiatives out there to encourage children to walk to school, and to make their journey safer and easier.
• See if your children's school has a Walking Zone map, highlighting how little time it can take to walk to school, or consider creating one.
• You could also check if your local area has a Park and Stride campaign, which encourages those who live a little further away to drive some of the distance and walk the rest.
• Living Streets are also encouraging schools, parents and children to take part in a School Route Audit, which looks at safe road crossing points and alternative routes to take. While safety is always paramount, ensuring that your children stay safe when walking to and from school can be done in a fun way.
Do you let your children walk to school on their own? If so what would be your best piece of advice to other parents? Please share them in the comments.