Free-Range Success — Thanks to Laziness!

Dear Readers — Here’s a success story from Plano, Texas!

We live about 200 yards from the school.  Our block ends across the street from the front of the school.  The crossing guard is one street over (on our same block, so no need for kids to cross a street).  Yet, every single child on our block either had their parent walk them to school or stood outside their house until they could see their child walk into the school.  Even our neighbors with fifth graders did this!

Under peer pressure, I did this while my oldest was in kindergarten and first grade.  When my girls were in kindergarten and second grade, I got laid off.  I admit it was laziness (I wasn’t dressed yet, because I wasn’t going to work) that finally made me act by my convictions and let the girls walk to school by themselves.  Since I was unemployed, I took them out of the after-school program, and they started walking home from school by themselves as well.

At first, I thought all of my neighbors would be talking about what a slacker parent I was.  Then a funny thing happened.  All of the parents on our block started letting their kids walk to school by themselves.  Another funny thing happened, the kids started walking together with other kids from our block.  They started to actually get to know one another.

It’s funny to think that I was so worried that the other parents would think bad things about me for letting my girls walk to school by themselves, but it turns out they were all so relieved that they could finally let their kids walk by themselves!

19 Responses

  1. I am glad that I’m not the only mom who sometimes parents under peer pressure…. looking around to see what everyone else is doing rather than consulting my own common sense.

  2. To the one friend who I wasn’t afraid would judge me, I mentioned that my 7 yr old wants to walk to school this year. We’re around .8m from school. Surprisingly, she told me that she’d been wishing her kids would walk (they’re around the same distance, but not in exactly the same direction). If my kid can convince her friends to walk to school, they’ll be able to meet at the main street at the end of our friends’ street (probably around 1/4m from each our houses) and walk the remaining half mile together. It’s SO nice to see that other parents will loosen up a little too, and makes me more willing to open up about my choices. It’s a safe neighborhood, there are only two major streets to cross: one at a traffic light with a button to push for a walk signal, the other the street the school is on with a crossing guard. And I’ll actually be on time to work this year!

  3. That’s too funny, and very cool.

  4. I think the most important thing that came from this is that the kids were able to get to know the kids they lived by. I think we spend so much time driving our kids across town to this or that. When they have a rare Saturday free they have no one to play with because their friends all live across town. They have been too busy to meet the kids next door.

  5. Ahhhh gotta love peer pressure. Makes you wonder how many of these kinds of things we do just because that’s what we see other parents doing.

  6. This is the nature of a movement. I am so, so grateful to Lenore and to moms like you who are taking those bold first steps toward parenting sanity. What a great success story!

  7. That’s an awesome story!

  8. I have had no issues with letting my kids walk home from school alone, though now that my oldest is going to the middle school, I won’t let my (special needs) 8-year-old do it unless accompanied by one of the older kids on our block.

    I will say, though, that I’m not entirely comfortable with letting them walk TO school alone…because I wouldn’t have any way of knowing that they got there. If a kid is missing or absent and you don’t call in to report it, the school calls you THAT EVENING to remind you to send in an official note.

    So I’ll admit to walking them up to the street that leads to their school, and then watching them until they’re part of the mass of kids heading schoolward. It’s probably overprotective, but it’s what feels right to me.

  9. TC, I wish I had been in your school district. Mine called the parents right after roll call in the morning. I got caught every time and forced to go in late! :p

  10. I just love this story. I was in the mood for a happy ending today. Thanks.

  11. I’ve mentioned this book before – The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson is an awesome book promoting this exact thing!
    (And for the next topic too – free play time)!

  12. This is great. My sister and I lived a block away from our school when we were 5 and we walked to it everyday by ourselves.

  13. I started letting my daughter walk to school with her 8-year-old neighbor about halfway through kindergarten, when it got cold and my younger child objected to getting bundled up so early. In first grade, she walked on her own most of the time. Even in the cold (and it can get REALLY cold here in Illinois).

    I don’t know if our decision to let her walk three blocks on her own has influenced anyone else, but it really works for us. And I’m trying to become that parent who isn’t constantly looking around to see what everyone else does. That’s the hardest part of all.

  14. Let’s hear it for laziness! As the mother of twins, I was told by my pediatrician to give myself a break. I was stressing because I felt physically unable to do everything for them that the “books” said children need. Now, at five years old, I find them bright and creative, and ready to start Kindergarten. Because of my “laziness”, my independent little guys can make their own (messy!) PB&J sandwiches and pick their own veggie snacks from the garden. They also LOVE to walk home by themselves from a visit to a neighbor’s house. They have great confidence in being “big boys”.

  15. TC – in NYC, schools don’t call at all. I, uh, certainly never took advantage of this as a child…!

    My dad, when we were young, noticed that a boy on our block was heading towards the school and then turning back halfway, EVERY DAY. He was certain that the boy was cutting, but unsure how to go about presenting this fact to the kid’s parents, so my mother gave him the following advice (which worked like a charm):

    The next day, go out and when you see him turn around greet him loudly, tell him he seems to have gotten lost, and offer to walk him to school with the girls (me and my sister, of course). Drop him off directly at the door of the school.

    And my father did, and he never saw this boy cut again : )

    Of course, it’s hard to do that nowadays, not because of stranger danger (although that’s part of it) but because some people are really uptight about other grown-ups correcting their kids, ever. (And yes, randomly screaming at some stranger’s kid is not cool, but if I can’t so much as say “Excuse me, I was here first” to your kid, as did happen to me once, then you really force yourself to be right by your child’s side at all times.)

  16. Something to be said about “laziness.”

    A great book to read (in addition to Free-Range Kids, of course:) is: Confessions of a Slacker Mom by Muffy Mead-Ferro

    Cheers to laziness:)

  17. People often tell me they are impressed by something I do with my kids – like co-sleeping, running a home preschool, breastfeeding, babywearing, cloth diapering, being vegetarian, etc. – and I always assure them that every cool, trendy parenting thing I do is born of sheer laziness.

    I am too lazy to deal with bottles, too lazy to put a baby in a crib, too lazy to go out and buy diapers, and far too lazy to supervise my kids while she walks three doors down to play at a friend’s house. Making us the only families on our block whose kids have that freedom.

  18. TC- I think I’d be more reluctant to let my child walk to school in that case too. Our school calls first thing in the morning, no later than 9AM… school starts at 8:15, and volunteers check the “safe arrival line” voicemail (where you call if your kid is home sick, so you DON’T get a call), then they call for any kid who is not in school without a message left. So I know that even if she got lost, I’d know it.

    BUT: I just bought a set of 2-way radios for other purposes (we’ll use them camping, then she can take one when she’s out in the neighborhood). Maybe that would work for you, so your child could call you each day when he/she got to school, or if there was any problem on the way? Of course that’s only if they’re responsible enough not to lose it…

  19. I recently started letting my 7-year-old start walking home from school. At first it was with an approved group, but he never met up with the group (for whatever reason) so he walked by himself. When I found out he wasn’t with the group, I wanted to go back to the old process of my sister walking to the school to pick him up, but the boy argued for doing it alone. So I’m letting him. He gets such a sense of responsibility and accomplishment from this; knowing I trust him to do something as simple as walking a couple blocks home. I still worry a little, but I’ll get over it.

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