Why Is It So Hard to Get Kids Walking to School?

Hi Readers — I’m still on the road and just gave a speech in Chicago sponsored by the National Center for Safe Routes to School. (A jolly bunch!)  Safe Routes reps every state gathered to talk about the pressing question: How can we get more kids walking to school? The organization says  that a generation ago, two thirds of f kids walked or biked to school. Today, 20-25% do. I’ve heard numbers even lower than that.

So Safe Routes (funded by the Dept. of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration) aims to get kids back to walking to school by whatever means necessary. If a neighborhood needs sidewalks, they help the neighborhood organize to get ’em. If a school has outlawed walking or biking, they help explain to the district why those things are actually GOOD. They even address, head on, the district’s fears of liability. Meantime, if parents are interested in letting their kids walk, but are scared (of predators, traffic, and worst of all: other parents thinking they’re lazy!), they teach ’em about the “walking school bus.” That’s the cool idea that a parent can take her kid and walk to the next kid’s house and pick her up, and then they all walk to the NEXT kid’s house and pick HIM up, etc., etc.,  so by the time they get to the school, there are a bunch of kids all walking together. Eventually, the kids don’t need the parents anymore: They’ve learned the route, know how to safely cross the street, and this has become their daily routine.

Even the Safe Routes folks agree: It’s weird we have come to time in society when we have to structure what used to be simple and natural — kids walking places. But the way I often think of Free-Range Kids is just that: re-introducing an old-fashioned childhood. When kids have been kept inside so long they no longer know how to organize their own game of leap frog, it’s not bad for a school to hire a recess coach to teach them (and then get out of the way). It’s more important to bring back those skills than it is to blindly pretend that kids will develop them on their own — because they never did. The used to learn games from the older kids in the neighborhood. If there are no older kids outside anymore, or they’re all at travel soccer, then of course the younger ones don’t learn those games out of thin air. Someone needs to re-introduce them.

That’s the same reasoning behind “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day.” Of COURSE I’d like all kids to automatically head out to the park on a sunny Saturday without needing a special holiday to encourage this. But since so many times kids DON’T head to the park, they DON’T get to know the other local kids, and they DON’T know how fun it can be to just kick around a playground with each other. So they stay inside. I proposed a morning where the old-fashioned “meet and have fun” thing would happen, hoping that afterward kids would clamor to do it again.

Safe Routes is on the same sort of mission and its website seems to be loaded with great ideas for how to get the PTA involved, and what to say to skeptics, and how to get the school on your side. And if the local problem is a lack of crossing guards, or whatever, the organization is also game to help walk a district through the red tape it takes to get some grant money to fix the problem. And, just like Take Our Children to the Park Day, Safe Routes sponsors Walk to School Day (coming up in October).

Our shared goal? To re-introduce kids into the world,  sort of the way we’ve done with Peregrine falcons. They may have been bred in captivity, but a future awaits when they can soar. — Lenore

60 Responses

  1. Well, here’s one reason: all it takes is one abduction scare near a school, or even in a school in the same town, and an entire school-generation of kids (at least) is going to be forbidden to walk, except for the few cases where the parents consciously choose to renounce the fear or simply have no alternative. So that only has to happen once every several years, and it doesn’t even have to amount to much, and a whole generation of parents gets the wind up.

  2. We have a Walk to School Week, which runs across participating schools in the UK. It works well, the children enjoy it and are given rewards such as a little certificate if they manage to walk to school all week. Mine are still too young to walk the two miles that it takes on their own (my oldest is five), but if the week did nothing else it made me realise how often I get in the car without thinking.

  3. unfortunately in communities entirely organized around cars, it’s more of a logistical issue. Our school is 6 or 7 miles away, without a single sidewalk.

    That, and the school systems in general are organized around fewer and larger schools which tend to be further away.

  4. From the League of American Cyclists:

    House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) has targeted the federal Safe Routes to School program established under the 2005 Federal Surface Transportation Bill (SAFETEA-LU) as wasteful government spending in his weekly “YouCut program”.

    Each week representative Cantor asks people to vote for which of five options they would cut from the federal budget. Republicans then hold a floor vote in the House of Representatives to try to eliminate the program that gets the most votes.

    This week, the federal Safe Routes to School program is one of Rep. Cantor’s targets. He argues that SRTS duplicates other bicycling and walking programs, and that bicycling and walking infrastructure is a local government responsibility. We need your help making sure that Members of Congress understand the value of Safe Routes to School and support it.


  5. I get a bit tired of hearing about how “they” want kids to walk or bike to school. Most children or teenagers are likely unable to do either because the school is too far, with dangerous roads and no sidewalks. Where I am, the middle school and high schools are 5 miles away. There’s a reason they have school buses after all.

  6. Even if you make the conscious choice to renounce that fear, you still face the fears of other people.
    I swallowed my outrage when the police were called when I left my children (8, 6 & 4) in the car for 10 minutes on a nice day because they didn’t want to run into the store with me. This past week, my children were riding their bikes on the sidewalk in front of our house. They know they have to use the buddy system and they know about stranger danger. They know they can only go stop sign to stop sign (9 houses in either direction, where two side streets with multiple 4 way intersections make a T intersection to our road, which is a dead end into a park). The children run into the house as I am packing our stuff for our military move to Ft. Lewis. The police were parked out front. They were called because three children were riding bikes unsupervised.
    “Is it against the law for them to ride bikes out there?” No, they said. “Is there a proximity to our home that is specified in the law?” No, they said. “Were they crossing the street, as I told them not to?” No, they said.
    “So why are you here?!”
    They asked the rhetorical question, who are you going to call if your child gets abducted? I answered, “You, and I will be sure to call you if they do!”
    I am grateful that they do such a good job keeping our streets safe for my children to ride their bikes….what good are safe streets if you can’t use them?
    Truth is, how many children get abducted in groups? Predators pick off the easy prey, the weak ones that are not with the group.
    Unfortunately, now my children have a negative opinion of police officers, since twice now they were just minding their own business and the police have given their mother a hard time. It is something that I have been working hard to explain to them, that the police have to come when they are called, that it is the people who call them for no good reason that are the problem.

  7. I think some work is even needed to encourage kids to walk to the bus stop.

    In my neighborhood, many parents either drive their kids < 1/2 mile to the bus stop or drive their kids to school rather than catch the bus because it is less hassle or to let the kid sleep a little more.

    This is definitely a mentality that could be improved.

  8. I think the point is to get those kids who live within walking distance and aren’t serviced by the bus to start walking to school. NOT to get kids who live 5, 6, or 7 miles away to walk.

    I recall being a school crossing guard for my elementary school in suburban Chicago when I was in 5th grade in the late 70s. I wonder if kids are given that responsibility anymore anywhere.

  9. “Where I am, the middle school and high schools are 5 miles away. ”

    As a pure mileage issue, that’s not too far for a high schooler to bike, unless he has a very large amount of books or equipment to carry (which my kids do run up against themselves most of the school year.) Perhaps also, in the situation you describe, the roads are particularly dangerous. But “five miles” in itself shouldn’t be a game-stopper for someone over 14.

  10. But it’s also true what Lynn said — there’s no need to list all the situations where kids can’t walk or bike. There are plenty where they can, and are discouraged or outright prevented from doing so by either a culture of fear, or actual school policies.

  11. My kids were going to a Catholic school a few blocks from our house and I think they are in the numbers of just a handful of kids that walk alone and they are definitely the youngest group at 7, 8 and 9. The other unsupervised walkers are all in the 7th or 8th grades. Most kids younger then that get picked up in some fashion. One 5th grader lives directly across the street from the entrance to the school and her mother still walks across the street to drop her off and pick her up every single day. Of course, I’m not sure I’d let any of my kids cross that street alone either but she doesn’t have to stand there and wait until her kid gets in the building. She’s 11 for crying out loud.

    As for crossing guards. I remember going to another Catholic school in the neighborhood in the early 90s (graduated in 91) and the 7th and 8th graders were the crossing guards. My corner was a block away from the school and I only knew it was time to come in when the guard closest to the school would flag me down with their orange belt.

    No school around here has child crossing guards anymore (at least in my area of Chicago). It’s too much of a liability. Our school has none at all, not even adults. The parents picking kids up drive like insane people and some only drive a block or two because they don’t want junior to have to huff it. It’s sad.

    We’re moving across the country and next year the kids are taking the bus. Technically it’s their only option. The school will be too far away to walk and I don’t have a car but even if I did have my own transportation there is no way in hell I’m getting up every morning and dragging my 4yo and infant (due in 5 weeks!) out just to drop 3 kids off that are perfectly capable of taking the school bus.

    On another website we were discussing busing and I was shocked at how many mothers said they would NEVER allow their kids to take the bus and that’s just lazy. Mothers should get up and drive their kids if they really loved them because that’s their job. We won’t even get into what they think about walking, let alone kids walking alone.

    And I’d like to add about Park Day…we didn’t get to participate in May because of a Girl Scout function and afternoon rain but over the weekend I agreed to let my kids attempt a trip to the park alone.

    It’s been 3 days and they have gone every single day and come home smiling, exhausted and covered in dirt. I’m so proud. When I went to go get them on Sunday I was amazed at the chaos at the park. There were 2 soccer games going on (at either end of the park), families picnicking while watching, others playing tennis, kicking balls around, break dancing (I kid you not), biking, jogging, running around and the playground was packed with tons of kids and adults of all ages. And many of the kids were there without adults (either they lived near-by or the adults were out watching the games or somewhere else). It was awesome. Sometimes I just love living in the city.

    My kids are at the park right now. They even cleaned their rooms fast so they could go. Now I’m stuck alone with my 4yo (too little to go without me yet) who is driving me nuts, lol.

  12. Pentamom, are you in Oregon? 😦

    I think I heard on the news that the last time a successful “classic” stranger abduction happened in Portland was in 1980. 30 years is a long time. And she was found, safely.

    My heart is breaking over Kyron. I am not convinced that it was a stranger abduction out of the middle of a SCHOOL building. But I know I want this resolved, soon.

    BOT: My kids rode their bikes today. My son’s friend W likes to ride, and although he’s taller than me, his mom is nervous about it, and so insists on the buddy system – which is completely fine by me. His younger brother really wanted to ride today – our weather has been so TERRIBLE for June (about to set the wettest June on record today…) they’ve not had much chance to do it, and I think the little brother is in first grade. Next year, my son and W will have moved on to middle school, but I told the mom, hey, my youngest will still be at the school (5th grade in the fall.) She can probably still be his buddy for bike riding. She brightened at that. 🙂

    So yeah, sometimes it does take a village and some classmates to get kids going.

    We do have particular radii around our schools where children are not bussed – they are expected to walk. Several of the 3-6th graders walk to ours from their immediate neighborhood, alone or with friends. Only the youngest seem to get parental accompaniment. So I guess we’re doing a good thing. 🙂

  13. I came across a reason this morning — the camp that my kids are doing at the school this summer requires parents to sign their kids IN to camp as well as out.

    I know that the policy is to sign a waiver to allow kids to sign themselves out of camp at the end of the day, which I did when I signed them up. But now, I have to walk with them so that I can tell the teacher that yes, they safely made it to camp today? If they showed up, wouldn’t that be obvious? We live 2 blocks away and they have been walking to school themselves for 2 years!

  14. Jen, ask them. Tell the, “Uh, really? They are capable of signing their own names, after all.”

    I routinely send my kids into the orthodontist office on their own while I run an errand to the Post Office or such. They know how to sign in and to wait for me if they finish before I’m back, the office has my cell number, and my kids know the number.

    In fact, I intend to send them all on their own this summer when appts come up. It’s on our street about a mile up. They’re just checkups. They don’t need me there – neither the office nor my kids.

  15. @Lynn,

    Yes, there are still schools that have 5th grade crossing guards – my son’s here in Madison, WI does. They have a safety team that serves as playground helpers, parking lot monitors and crossing guards. In my experience with them when walking my son to school in the beginning of the year (after about six weeks he started walking on his own) was that they were unfailingly polite and responsible.

    We are lucky to still have neighborhood schools that serve the areas where they are located, as well as a city that actively promotes being able to get around on foot, bike, or public transport. On the very few occassions I’ve driven my son to school (lightning or lateness) I’ve never seen more than four or five cars at the school at once. Safe Routes to Schools is pretty active and well-regarded here, too.

  16. “Unfortunately in communities entirely organized around cars, it’s more of a logistical issue. Our school is 6 or 7 miles away, without a single sidewalk.”

    But this is not the issue for highly populated subrubs. There are three elementary schools, for instance, within less than 1 mile of my house. But the bust comes and stops 1/2 block from my house…so the kid rides the bus, with all her friends. If they eliminated all bus routes withing 1 mile of the school, I think more kids would no doubt walk. Part of it is that they now send buses where once they did not. This would also be a cost savings.

  17. BTW, I have moved back to the same place where I grew up. The bus did not stop within 3/4 mile of the school then, and a lot more kids walked to school. Now they just take the bus because the bus now comes. It didn’t use to.

  18. 5 miles is a long way? seriously? That’s like a 25 minute bike ride … big deal. The kids should be getting that kind of exercise every day anyway!

    5 miles is not a big deal. A 10-mile bike commute, sure, that’s too much for most or all kids … but i did 5 miles of urban biking to high school every other week, when i lived with my mom and biked to school, in junior high onwards. i enjoyed it, who wouldn’t? i mean, besides a lazy kid that should be exercising more to begin with?

  19. The school my daughter went to last year in Poway had 5th graders as crossing guards, so I’m happy to say it still happens.

    Where we’re at this year, not so many kids walk to school. I was talking to one of the parents who drives to pick up his son after school, and he said he has to get there a minimum of 20 minutes early to get a spot in the lot – otherwise he’d have to park down the street. Parents who live nearly as close to the school as I do drive there, and the lot is tiny.

    Rain or shine, we walked almost every day. Made one exception for a particularly rainy day, but that was it.

    Some of the kids do have very busy streets to cross, and impatient drivers to deal with, so I don’t blame their parents for wanting to drive. But the ones who don’t, and live really close to the school, what are they thinking?

  20. We live too far away to walk to school. Otherwise, they would walk, and I don’t care what everyone else does.

    I understand why elementary schools are now fewer and farther between. I suppose there are many good reasons for it. I’m sorry my kids will miss the experiences I had as a “walker” to and from school, but it’s my job to figure out how to make up for it. I mean, I never had the opportunity to go swimming at the water-hole on the way home from school, but I managed to grow up OK. Nostalgia is one thing, need is another.

  21. I think it’s funny that we think high schoolers should bike 5 miles each way (as someone pointed out, with the amount of stuff they carry, this is rarely practical, although in the high school where I work we have a couple each year who manage it) but yet how many adults do you see doing it to work? Per the dad who has to get a spot in the parking lot – why is it the end of the world to have to walk a few blocks? Kids are only following what they’re taught.

    Very few kids here go to walkable-distance schools. Mine do not. Their morning bus stop requires me to drive them, but the afternoon one is around the corner. They are 8 and 5 and I like to walk around the corner (with our dog) to pick them up and have a few minutes of chat on the way home before we get home and into the business of the afternoon. I am not concerned they will be abducted and I am sure at some point they will prefer to walk home alone, but for now I simply LIKE to walk with them. Connection time.

  22. For those of you who are saying 5 miles isn’t too far . . . many of us live where there is inconsistent / inclement weather for most of the school year. Certainly not reliable for bike riding. Where I went to HS, it was normal for the snow to be a foot deep. We walked because it was only about a mile. But 5 miles? Not realistic. I did bike daily to a summer program at the county Vo-Ed when I was a young teen – that was probably about 5 miles each way, and it was no problem. But that was summer.

  23. Some of you still have bus stops? Wow. They take kids door-to-door in my area. When I was in school, there were 2 bus stops for the entre neighborhhood – one at one end and one at the other. You hoofed it to one of them or got to school some other way. And there was no bus service within 1 mile of school. Now kids get picked up at their own driveways 2 blocks from the school.

    We don’t live in an area where my daughter can regularly walk to school by herself. The walks to her elementary and middle schools are too far and involve crossing major commuter roads. She could easily bike to high school but she’ll be driving within 2 months of the start of her soph year so that will probably take care of any interest in biking.

    She will have bus access but I will probably drive her to school. I work so I am out and about anyway. It seems kinda silly to make her get ready much earlier to take a bus ride over half of town when it will only take an extra 2 minutes for me to drop her off on my way to work.

    I think that this is part of the difference today than when we were kids. Most mothers during my childhood didn’t work (mine did but she was a rarity). Putting a kid on the bus made sense – one was available and mom isn’t generallly going somewhere every day at 7 am. Now most mothers work and are leaving the house around school time anyway. Why not just drop Jr. off on the way past the school?

  24. I don’t mean to boast, but I remember my brothers training for their InterRail adventure (a whole month on their own, with two friends and their bikes, “Interrailing” through Spain, France and Holland). They spent a whole term biking to school, 10 miles away, occasionally racing the school bus (on a quite busy motorway, actually). They were 15 and 16 at the time.

  25. At least some of you have buses — we don’t because (supposedly) the schools are close enough for kids to walk or be driven. Our borough of 10,000 citizens is a bit over a square mile and has sidewalks all over, plus crossing guards at busy intersections. I am very interested in the ‘walk to school’ initiative being an everyday thing, not some interesting novelty to do one day during the year (“walk to school” day). However, trying to get people to buy into the idea is a hard nut to crack, so I’ve heard. I still want to pursue this…any ideas?

    What really galls me are the number of parents who live close by and still drive their kids, usually stay at home moms in no particular hurry to get somewhere else. Even worse: these same people who worry about the predators stalking their children have no qualms about the same kids sitting in the front (when undersized) or freeing themselves from seatbelts/restraints while turning the corner to be dropped off — talk about screwed up priorities! (All you need is for one of these minivans to be rearended to cause an accident with serious bodily injuries when kids are improperly seated/restrained.)

  26. Dean — my husband bikes(about five miles) to work in the summer (when he doesn’t have to drive the kids to school) every day that the weather permits or there isn’t some unusual issue creating a tight schedule. Which means, 60-80% of the time.

    So…maybe I’m allowed to say that biking five miles for a teenager, who is usually stronger with better endurance than his own dad, is reasonable?

  27. Lynn, I’m not talking about real abductions, I’m talking about “scares,” where a kid reports being grabbed or pretty actively lured toward a car, and it makes the news. And I’m not saying that’s a reason people SHOULD stop letting their kids walk to school, I’m saying it does make them react that way.

    I’d say in my PA city of around 100,000 it happens at least once a year. Not abductions, but “scares,” that freak people out and make them swear their kids will never walk again. I’ll grant that for most people it wears off eventually, but it does have an effect on people’s fear level.

  28. We also need to get neighborhood schools back! I moved to my house assuming my daughter would be in the same school, within walking distance, from K-6. (it had been a K-8 school way back when first opened) Last year, the district changed the schools — There is now one early learning center for preschool & kindergarten (majority are bused); three schools that are k-4; on 5-6 grade school; a 7-8 grade junior high & a high school.

    So when my daughter is in 5th grade, instead of walking to school, she will be bused to a school that’s across a highway. All so 5-6 graders can have specialized teachers.

    This is a trend in NJ. One district has a school for only 6th graders.

  29. Thank goodness there are other free-range parents & kids out there. Our soon to be little one is a few (well maybe 7) years away from going to the park or school on their own, but darn it if I’m not going to let them walk and/or bike there. I grew up biking and walking to school through junior high until I started high school and had to take the bus because of sheer distance (10+ miles).

    The safe routes to school program does always make me chuckle a bit since it only seems that the more affluent families have trouble letting/getting their kids to walk to school, since most of the kids in my much less affluent neighborhood have seemed to figure out the walking and biking to school thing all on their own 🙂 (PS it’s because their families don’t have personal vehicles and school bus service costs money they don’t have and/or live too close).

  30. Five miles on a bike? Why not? Growing up in the mean streets of South-Central LA, we never gave a second thought to this.
    I see parents, even of high school age youngsters driving their kids to school…a block away. Their rationale, if that’s what it can be called, is that there are too many parents driving their kids to school, so there is a high traffic danger.
    My own high schooler walks to school, about four blocks…traffic be damned. And he crosses a busy state highway, too; he knows how to wait for the green light and use the crosswalk! But the school administrators would not allow me to sign him out early for a medical appointment. He was supposed to bring a note in advance, signed by me, and then was expected to have a note from the doctor that he’d actually been seen.

  31. It’s kind of hard to believe this is even an issue. I walked or took public transportation to school my whole life- I just don’t see how people who work normal jobs are expected to drive their kids everywhere all the time… is this only a SAHM thing? or an upper middle class thing? I jjust don’t see this even being an issue in my neighborhood- there’s no way that a working class family has time or resources to chaperone their kids every day- we need to be at our jobs…

  32. Esmeralda, I struggle with this because I hate the idea of my kids sitting on the bus all morning (from K-5 and 9-12) to go to a school 3 miles away. I would rather drive them since it’s too far to walk (and it’s snowing most of the school year so no bikes). But it’s out of my way to get them there, and my work schedule would make it hard (if not impossible) to drive them back home.

    Why am I against the bus? Because it seems to me to be a huge brain drain. Walking is one thing – you are interacting with your environment, which is constantly changing and offering new opportunities and challenges. The bus rides can be as long as 2 hours of sitting and doing nothing (and idle hands are you-know-what); and since we happen to live just at the edge of the district, my kids would be sitting on it the longest. Maybe someone will convince me over the next couple years that it really isn’t as bad as it seems. I always walked as a kid, so I can’t relate to the whole busing thing.

    Most likely I would have to get child care one way or the other. I am thinking of lining up a family-based caregiver to whose house my kids could safely walk, where I’d pick them up after school. I’m not sure – no solution really sounds ideal for my kids’ K-5 years.

  33. For older kids, another obstacle to a healthy bike ride to school is the amount of crap they have to being back and forth. I’d love to have my kids bike it so I don’t have to pick them up after activities.
    But I can’t imagine my 90 pound daughter juggling a bulging backpack (20 lbs at least), her lunch, and her musical instrument while biking on busy and narrow road.
    My back hurts just watching her carry her backpack. Those textbooks are crazy big and she needs each one every day.

  34. I’ve noticed, at least in our local papers, is that most reports of an abduction are false alarms after an investigation is completed. This is just like the reports of a suspicious white powder. Our local Police investigated a white powder in a doughnut shop. There hasn’t been an real mailed anthrax case in 9 years, so it is understandable that an abduction scare from years ago also makes many people overly cautious. Fears are usually bigger than an actual threat.
    Kids are now picked up in front of their homes instead of having to walk a mile. The reason given is a lack of sidewalks. Funny, I don’t remember them tearing the sidewalks from when I walked to school.

  35. Actually I can see more of a reason to drive HS aged kids than elementary aged kids. (Note this is in an area with zero public transportation unless you count school buses. For someplace like NYC things would be different.)

    1 Here elementary schools are basically neighborhood schools. Sometimes there is a major road (defined 4 lanes with speed limit 45 mph or higher, but those students are eligible to be picked up by the bus per state rules. (Students living 2 miles from the school or who have to cross a major road are transported on the state’s dime)

    2. After school activities are not school based

    1. Have a much larger zone. In the district I work in the district is broken up into 21 elementary schools but only 4 HS. Now some of the elementary schools are rural and on state HW with 60 MPH speed limits. Not the best situation for kids walking to school in morning light (lack of light or people driving east into the rising sun) Most of them are neighborhood schools in town. (In elementary kids eating breakfast at school need to be at school between 7 – 7:30

    2. Kids have early morning and afternoon activities and practices connected with school. Where I teach HS starts between 8:10 – 8:30 (this is in line with brain research that suggest a later start for teenagers). Because of Heat (this is Texas) some sports have practice before school as early as 6:30. Other sports and activities are after school. There is a late bus, but no early bus. I know several teachers at my school were involved in carpools to take kids to early practice. One teacher picked up all the kids in her neighborhood, drove them as far as our school – and they ran the rest of the way (they were track).

    Also in Texas there are restrictions on how many non-family members a newly licence under 18 driver can have in the car. That limits teammates sharing rides

    Also 16 yo sophomores might not be allowed to drive to school because of a lack of parking. (Permits go to staff, then senior, then Juniors, the sophomores’ with before or after school activities) Exceptions are made for family difficulties. example A student had a parent being treated for cancer. She was allowed to drive herself and younger siblings to and from practice and school.

    So I can understand a HS student with a ton of gear being driven to early practice or picked up after school if there was no late bus.

  36. Pentamom, of course there are adults who bike 5 (plus) miles to work. And as I said, a few of my students each year do so. My point is, as a society we don’t generally bike – we drive. So the issue of kids being driven to school (versus biking and walking) is perhaps because of, among other things being brought up in this discussion, the general societal trend and their parents . In my community, I’ve never heard parents talk about fear of abduction with kids getting to school – it’s just part of the general lifestyle that kids don’t go to nearby schools and they get bused or driven, whatever works best with the family schedule.

  37. We have had several abduction scares in our neighborhood since we have lived here (3 yrs). I know of 4 kids who have been hit by cars (all survived) in the same time frame. I refuse to live in fear, these are never the reason for my kids not walking to school. My kids are FR kids, the go all day, they check in, they don’t have cell phones…BUT My kids only sometimes walk to school. I had a kindergartner this past year so most days I drove her. At first it was because she was young (even though she has 2 older brothers she can walk with). Then it was because I was being selfish. I enjoyed the time with the other mothers while waiting for the gates to open. It was the only adult time I had all day. I continued to drive the younger two because I am too lazy to walk most days, (other days I have too much to do) and I want that time with the other mothers. The kids have been forewarned however that next year, they are walking every day.

    So that’s why my kids got a ride this past year…

  38. Our school district doesn’t have local schools- there is a k-2, 3-5 6-8 (MS) and 9-12(HS). The MS and HS are located on a main campus with the administrative offices and bus garage and located about 11/4 miles from our home.
    The two elementary schools are too far to walk but I let my oldest start walking/biking to and from school in 7th grade. My neighbor thinks I’m nuts- she still goes out to get her almost 9yo off the bus. The bus stop is kitty corner from her house. My youngest is in the same grade and I stopped going out to get her once she could demonstrate safely being able to exit the bus and cross the street. My neighbor thinks she is “looking out” for my kid- like I’m being negligent and she is picking up the slack.
    As for when we were kids walking, it wasn’t like we were out there alone. My Mom walked me to school through Kindergarten and 1st grade( and she was considered overprotective) at which point I was deemed capable of crossing streets on my own. Not that I needed to. There were crossing guards and older kids who would help plus the kids who were younger whose mothers’ were walking them because of their age.
    In HS I walked all over our village plus took the bus to the downtown of our local small city and to a mall in a neigboring town. My oldest is now finishing 9th grade, and the culture is there to be soooo protective that I always take a deep breath, try to remember if I was able to do whatever she is asking to do when I was her age, look at if she has been demonstarting age appropriate responsibility before I give an answer. No, she can’t drive a car or ride w/ other teenagers now but when she herself is closer to driving age, then we will revisit if she can do that. That’s a nother point. I hear a lot of parents who don’t let their kids get a permit. My Dad took the day off of work so we could be there at 9am when the DMV opened it’s door on my 16th birthday. I had passed all my classes. All my friends were going down right away but these kids parents just won’t take them or are putting off taking their kids for as long as they can. These are kids who do well in school, participate in school events and sports which require committment and discipline. But I guess if your HS Senior can drive, well you lose control over the situation. Goodness, someone might steal them, car and all, right?

  39. Dean — good points taken.

  40. SKL – I don’t know how old your kids are, but if they’re old enough, do they get car sick at all? If not, then the school bus can actually be quite productive.

    I had to take the bus in high school. The ride was roughly an hour long. To fill the time, I would often read or do homework.

    Even if one doesn’t do anything “productive” on the bus, it’s still a nice break after school and before getting home to do homework/chores/after school activities. Even taking a nap isn’t a bad thing to do.

  41. @ SKL – I plan to drive my daughter to school in the am. In the pm, I’ll either pick her up either directly after school or from after school care, depending on the day of the week. I have no intention of using the bus for the same reason you mention – I don’t really want her riding all over town for an hour to get to a place 5 minutes away. Her school is out of my way but only an extra 10 minutes or so. Since she would have to leave the house 45 minutes earlier to catch the bus (meaning I’d have to get up earlier to get her ready earlier), adding 10 minutes onto my drive to work sounds like the lesser burden. I also suffered from car sickness as a kid so bus rides invoke nothing but pure misery to me (so much so that I voluntarily walked to school most days although it was over a mile and a bus would take me) so I’m not exactly jumping up and down for my child to have the school bus experience (although she does not seem plagued by car sickness).

  42. In our school district the school borders are so weird, that our daughter won’t be able to walk to school when she enters 1st grade in the fall. We have an elementary school just 0.5 miles away, but that’s not our “neighborhood school”. Instead that’s 2 miles away with a steep hill in between – too much to handel on a bike for a 6-year old (and we are avid bicyclists biking to work every day). But at least I want her to walk to the bus by herself. Most parents don’t even let their children do that. The city of Portland, OR, is all for sustainability and being bike and walk friendly, but they can’t get the school district to rearrange the school borders, so that they make sense.

  43. Tonight I walked my girlfriend home, 12 blocks and 12 back, 24 blocks total. It was a beautiful evening, and on the way back (it was around 11:30) I passed by a local street fair. It opens tomorrow, but the rides and booths are there, closed but waiting, and I took several fantastic pictures with my camera.

    Aside from the health benefits, just walking around, and actively looking and paying attention (instead of vapidly listening to an ipod or cell phone) opens eyes to the world around you. Kids today have blinders on- they see only what they are interested in, only what is in their narrow field of interest. A simple walk can broaden horizons.

  44. Our nearest elem. school is on a two-lane road that happens to be a county “highway”. The kids that live directly across the street from the school are picked up by a bus because state law says they can’t be forced to cross a highway. And it’s not a busy road at the beginning and end of school hours, only during commuting hours. (We live far enough away from the city that commuting hours are way before/after school hours.) Our district does still use student crossing guards, but apparently this is not considered a good place for one.

    We homeschool, so riding or walking to school is a non-issue. However, my 10yo son has a good friend that lives 3 miles away- all residential streets with a bike path most of the way. The two boys ride back and forth regularly, and have free reign of all the territory in between. All it took was me letting my son make the trip a few times, then the other mom joined right in. They now have several other friends that join them.

  45. Although getting the kids out walking again is a good thing, the hard thing is logistics and safety. The fear is safety and child predators. We recently had a scare in our neighborhood school where an adult attempted to abduct a middle school aged girl. Luckily, she got away, but we were all pretty shaken up over it. And this is in an affluent neighborhood!

  46. Here’s some good news on the walking/biking front:

    From 1990 to 2009, the number of trips taken on foot more than doubled from 18 billion to 42.5 billion. Similarly, the number of bike trips increased from 1.7 billion to 4 billion.

  47. Unrelated:

    OK, so the government funds free lunches in low income neighborhoods. My neighborhood is one of them. I’ve gone a few times with my daughter and it’s amazing to me how many kids are there without their parents. Today I brought my camera and took a couple pictures. The playground was SWARMING with them. There’s a hill, and the kids have worn a path into the grass from where they take turns riding bikes and scooters down the steepest part. I watched as they carefully waited to make sure it was clear, then went 100 mph down the slope. So many kids helping other kids play, like the little girl who made her sister get off the swing so my toddler could use it, and then pushed her for me. She kept asking, “Does she like to go higher?!”

    Of course there are other kids butting in line and being little brats, but it was awesome to see the parents who WERE there, weren’t stepping in to settle the arguments. I am just so excited about the whole thing!

    Let me know if you want pictures. I will carefully black out any faces, first. 😉

  48. it’s amazing to me how many kids are there without their parents.

    This goes back to what I always say – poor people can’t AFFORD to keep that sort of watch on their kids.

  49. Don Khan: “I’ve noticed, at least in our local papers, is that most reports of an abduction are false alarms after an investigation is completed.”


    Yep. A buddy of mine is a reporter here in Calgary and every single case of ‘attempted abduction’ reported in the last 10 years (about a dozen of them) has ended up being a fabrication by the students. Turns out kids know that a surefire excuse for being late to school is to claim an attempted abduction.

    Of course, the media coverage of the ‘attempted abductions’ is far, far more prominent and widespread than the inevitable corrections.

    To their credit, my friend’s newspaper has now adopted a policy of not reporting on abduction claims by students until there’s some sort of corroboration.

  50. The culture here is what keeps kids from walking to school – the culture that you have to go to the same school you parents did, even if you moved across the city. The same culture that you have to go to private school because of the idea that ALL public schools are bad (some are, but not all). So kids are driven all over the city and to other cities for school. Ridiculous. They are rebuilding our n’hood school and my son will definitely be walking when it gets back in our neighborhood.

  51. Here in Switzerland what you described (kids walking together to school) is called a Pedibus. There are established routes and time tables. Public school kids usually can walk or take public transportation to school.

    The private school kids, of which there are many, are chauffeured by parents, the nanny or the even the chauffeur. I’m surprised by how many kids here never take the very safe public transportation.

    My almost eight-year old daughter goes to a private school about a ten-minute walk away. My father thinks I’m a cruel mother because I make her walk. Other parents have asked me, “How do you get her to walk all that way?” Puh-leeease! It’s ten minutes.

    My daughter has never had a choice. I take her hand and we walk. She’s been doing it since she was four. When she was three we lived further away and we took the tram and walked. No big deal.

    When it rains, we wear rain coats. When there’s snow we wear boots. It’s not rocket science.

    I love our time together in the morning walking to school. We sing, talk and review spelling words. I’m overweight, but my daughter isn’t. I think that walk helps keep her healthy weight maintained.

    Our big debate is when she can walk alone. I’m just afraid of the underpass. I don’t know why, but I don’t want her walking there alone. It’s not dangerous, but I don’t like the idea of the brief, yet very safe, walk under the road. I might get over my fear by the time she’s twelve.

  52. My daughter is 7 years old and in first grade. She has just this week started walking to school (about 15 minutes, several roads to cross) by herself and she loves it. The first time I let her go some of the way, she was ever so slightly annoyed that I followed her just a little bit (literally a few feet, from which point I just watched her skip up the street) and after school told me not to do that, lol. It’s nice to see her doing something that no one used to give a second thought to, but one parent I spoke to thought “11 or 12” was a better age to let them walk to school alone! How embarrassing is that?

  53. We had a “Walking School Bus” program at our elementary school and had a positive response to it and many participants. Unfortunately, it had to be cancelled, due to lack of funding mentioned in the original post.

  54. Has anybody given any thought to the fact that some schools will NOT allow students to walk? Some schools don’t want the liability if little Jimmy or Suzie gets hurt on the way to or from school.

    What amazes me is the number of people who won’t let their child walk to the end of their driveway to catch the school bus. I have watched a child get out of a car, get on to a bus and then the parent backs the car up the driveway into the garage 50 yards away. I can see this in the Winter and during bad weather, but not on a beautiful 60 degree morning.

  55. @Jim
    Yes https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/2009/06/13/free-range-kids-outrage-of-the-week-no-biking-to-school/
    If you search for ‘bicycle school’ you’ll find more posts on the subject. It is true that children under about the age of 8 don’t have the peripheral vision ‘sense’ to handle any kind of traffic, so I wouldn’t recommend them riding alone unless they have a dedicated bike path (not just a lane).

    But some of these schools say kids aren’t allowed to arrive at school by bike, even accompanied by parents. I’ve asked a couple of cycling-advocate-lawyers to weigh in on the legality of that, but they have been uncharacteristically silent about it. I presume it’s pretty tangled in local jurisdiction potentials.

    I used to walk 20 min each way to and from work in Atlanta. My co-workers, even when it was fall/spring (not Hot) thought I was insane.

  56. I think we have to remember here to compare apples to apples schools. I grew up in a rural area. My BUS ride was 45 minutes to school. There were a few walkers, but not many. I don’t think these are the schools where the walking debate is centered.

    I now live in suburbia. There is an entire sub development designated as “walkers” at my daughter’s Elementary school. This sub is *across the street* from the school. There are crossing guards. Except for the dead of winter (we are in Michigan) — why are parents driving these kids to school??? I don’t get it. There are walkers, but not enough! The line of cars is just silly.

    My sub division is quite close to the school (definitely walking distance for the kids), but the economic downturn hit us hard, and the sidewalks were never completed between us and the school (sad). Ironically, the school is probably paying more in bussing than they would just to finish the sidewalks! But, alas — the property is privately owned. It would be a series of lawsuits against bankrupt developers to try to get the sidewalks put in. Ah… such is Michigan.

  57. main reason my girl dont travel to school alone -WELFARE – when she used to walk the three blocks to school it was cited as a reason WHY I was calssed as an unfit parent!

    Welfare cited that my daughter “is at risk of neglect as she is frequently left unsupervied to walk to school”, likewise she was classed as “at risk of neglect as she if frequently left unsupervised in the back yard” – it has a six foot high fence on three sides and access to it is only out of the house – and YES she was left to play while I made dinner, etc!

    WELFARE cited my “complete disregard” to my childs “safety for allowing her to walk unsupervised” and tried scare tactics like “arent you afraid shell be abducted” – when they were at that stage tempting kids out of the SCHOOL grounds during school time!!

    When we moved to a different area and I used to walk and wait for her to board the bus and it dropped off outside her school that to was cited as irresponsible by WELFARE!

    So Im guessing if they did it to us, they are doing it to heaps of others and in many cases the FEAR of having welfare on your back scared alot of fellow parents off lettingg their kids walk EVEN THREE BLOCKS!!

  58. Must admit I’m feeling pretty lucky right about now.

    My school district doesn’t bus within 1 mile of the n’hood school AND it allows first-graders up to walk or bike without supervision. Kindergartners can walk/bike if accompanied by a sibling 3rd grade or up.

    My kid was biking to school about a month into first grade (she was 6). Now, it was a bit of a fight to get my husband on board with this idea, but she knew how to ride and she knew how to get to school, so… She has a watch. She knows what time she needs to be home if she’s on her bike, and what time she needs to be home if she’s walking (for some reason, like she’s grounded from her bike). She has to be home on time.

    When her brother starts kindergarten, he’ll get to walk/bike with her.

  59. Seeking out any dental schools in your local area is a great place to start. These institutions will most likely have trained local practitioners and will be able to offer solid recommendations. Be sure to ask for the names and contacts of practicing faculty members.

  60. So are there more abductions now than there used to be or do we hear about them more frequently because of the speed that news travels now?

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