Can’t Argue with Success

Hi Readers! First of all, thank you SO MUCH for the fantastic suggestions on how to help parents get over the fear of BLAME, in the post below this one.  Here’s one response that I wanted to highlight because I hear you: We need success stories here, too. Enjoy this one! L.

Dear Free-Range Kids:  *Other* parents’ ability to let go of that worry have encouraged me to do the same. A recent example: My 13-yo son is attending band camp, 2 miles from our home, for an hour a day M-F. Problem is, I tutor 2 days a week and am not available to get him there on those 2 days. A friend called and said her son (a friend of my son’s) was going to camp as well, but she babysits little ‘uns and the strain of getting them all out the door for 2 there-and-back trips was a bit much, and would my son want to walk with her son?

I wouldn’t have sent him on his own, because the guilt would have killed me! But with someone else? Why not try?

They have been walking it for almost 3 weeks now. A female friend has joined them, and then another girl came along 1 day, but her father followed them in the family minivan all the way there, and then home again later. (I don’t know whether to be amused or insulted!)

Funny thing is, the friend who “instigated” this venture has an older daughter who also went on foot 4 years ago, but Mom is taking flak for *making* her son do it, because he’s in a WHEELCHAIR. As if that makes him incapable. He’s traveling with 2 or 3 other people, never by himself, and she’s getting guilt-tripped because he’s in a WHEELCHAIR, and how could she MAKE him do it?! And get this, the other kids had to start riding their bikes to keep up with him (he does NOT have a motorized chair, BTW).

Last cool thing: Mom had to drop off a form and did it at the end of the day’s session so she could just give him a ride home. His response was, “Thanks, Mom, but I need to catch up with my friends.” How can you argue with THAT success? — A Mom in Illinois

The Highlander Takes the Low Road

Hi Readers! I know these Toyota ads have been running for a while, but I still cannot believe that some ad agency thinks the best way to sell parents on a car is to tell them their kids despise everything they believe in and enjoy — possibly including THEM. And that the best way to show our love for our children is to chauffeur them in a TV-equipped bubble, where they can drown out anything that does not amuse them. And, of course, that driving (individual!!) kids to school is the natural order of things.

This is what I mean when I talk about the many ways pop culture molds us as parents. If we turn on the TV and it really looks like EVERYONE is driving their kids to school, that becomes the norm and, in turn, everyone starts driving their kids to school.

I know this is a car commercial, so it’s not going to say: For God’s sake, why don’t those able-bodied boys WALK to school? Or ride their BIKES? If they’re such good friends, obviously going the same direction, wouldn’t it make sense for them to amble off to school TOGETHER and talk on the WAY, instead of communicating through CAR WINDOWS? (Or if they live really far, even — hey — carpool?) When we don’t see any of those questions on TV, the only question becomes WHAT we drive, rather than WHY.

Yes, all of that is what this ad (infuriatingly cute nonetheless) got rumbling inside of me.

Meantime, the ad BELOW just reinforces the idea that cool kids get driven to and from school, losers take the bus. (Cool, RICH kids apparently also get the blonde chicks.)

I guess it’s a little much to expect a car company to embrace public transit, but still — let US at least remember that more kids are killed in car crashes than on school buses. So if you’re a parent who REALLY cares…which would you choose?

Outrage of the Week: Mom Ticketed for Letting Boy Walk to School

Readers — I think I need a Valium. Read this. A mom is ticketed for letting her 5.5 year old son walk home from school. Even though she BEGGED the school to let him take the bus. Even though she went to city council meetings and BEGGED the town to put in crossing guards. Even though she makes her son wear an ORANGE VEST AND HELMET so as to be as visible as possible along the route she taught him — the SAFEST one possible. Even though she has a younger child at home AND an older child with cerebral palsy. Nah, none of that matters, She was charged with negligence.

She really sounds negligent, doesn’t she? — L.

How Do You Change a Lily-Livered School?

Hi Readers — Here’s another plea from a Free-Ranger trapped in a helicoptering vise. Do you have any suggestions that have worked at your school? Please share them! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Something terrible has happened at our school.

I wrote to you a while ago about how wonderfully free our village kids are.  Things are changing….. and not for the better.

My children are 7 and 9.  I live 1 mile from school, and our route takes us through a nature reserve, so no traffic and no road crossings necessary.
I have been taking baby steps towards letting my children walk to/from school.  I started by walking the children to school and then I started leaving the children at the school boundary approximately 50 meters from the school gates, they then walked over the boundary line by themselves.

That’s as far as I got…. they walked 50 meters unattanded (but I watched them).

I have received a letter from the school explaining that children have to be taken to and picked up from the school gate. I challenged the school on this rule, and asked them why.  They said, “It’s not worth the risk, SOMETHING TERRIBLE COULD HAPPEN.”  Though they would not spell out what that something terrible could be, and neither has anything ever happened before.

The head master also indicated to me that other parents had been reported to social services for allowing their children to walk to school by themselves.

Please note that the majority of the children live within a mile of the school, and we really do live in quite a safe village.

What can I do? Are they really allowed to dictate to me how my children get to and from school? — Rachel

P.S. I have heard that this has nothing to do with insurance!

And So, Things Change

Hi Readers! Have a great weekend! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I just wanted to share with you a small but happy Free-Range story that probably wouldn’t have come about if your site hadn’t given me the courage to articulate the reasons why my children should be allowed to do strange things like walk to school alone.

Every morning I stand out on the footpath to wave goodbye to my 7-year-0ld and 5-year-old as they head off to school on their own. They now no longer want me to wait until I can no longer see them, and I don’t get the lovely waves and blown kisses that they used to give me as they disappeared over the hill – they are too big and independent for that now!

Sometimes the girls would be leaving as our neighbor across the road was getting her girls into the car. I never asked whether her 6-year-old wanted to walk with the girls, as I am always worried that people will think I’m a little strange. But one morning the mom asked if her daughter could walk with my girls.

It has now become a daily event! I let my 7-year-old cross over to pick up her friend, then they cross back together, and the three girls walk up the street. I can’t think of a more satisfying, heart-warming sight.

Recently, the girls started asking me if they could see if their other friend from further up the street (whose house they have to pass) would like to walk with them. Now, this little girl’s mother is definitely not a subscriber to the Free-Range philosophy, if her constant exhortations to her 7- and 5-year-olds to “stop running, walking only” on the way home from school are anything to go by. So I wasn’t sure how she would react, but I said yes. So my 7-year-old asked. And she was thrilled when her friend — same age — was allowed to walk. So was I. Four little girls laughing and skipping to school together, no adult to stifle their “just being.”

I have been planting the seeds in the minds of the two mothers that I hope will continue this next year, even though the oldest girls will no longer be with them, and I think I might have succeeded. I am looking forward to seeing a gaggle of 5 happy children heading off to school next year!

Thanks again! — Janet Matthews

Weds., Oct. 6, is International Walk to School Day!

Hi Folks! Yes, Wednesday is the day for kids to do what they used to do  without it requiring a special event. And let’s hope your school signs on without all the shenanigans of my friend’s school. There, any parent who wants to help out by, say, acting as a crossing guard, must first undergo a background check. Because obviously volunteering for a single day, outside, and molestation go hand in hand. Also: While her school is ENCOURAGING “Walk to School Wednesdays” it is FORBIDDING Walk to School Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Fridays. That’s right. Kids along the bus route are not ALLOWED to walk to school any other day.

Sigh.

It’s amazing how easy it is to take a nice, straightforward idea and turn it into a bureaucratic nightmare. But here’s hoping your kids, school and/or district have their feet on the ground — so to speak — and simply get started! Here’s some more info on the day and how to do things like start a “walking school bus.” Happy trails! (I’d walk to school Weds.,  but it’s about 14,000 miles. Flying home from Australia soon, though!) — Lenore

Welcome, Wall Street Journal Readers!

Hi Readers — All of you, including the new ones who caught my piece in today’s Wall Street Journal. It was all about the fact that so few kids are walking to school these days — about one in ten. And here’s a note that sums up the whole craziness:

Dear Free-Range Kids:  My son started kindergarten and the dismissal procedure is for the teacher to open her classroom door to the outside and let the kids out if she sees a parent or person assigned to pick up the child. When I asked another parent about letting the kids walk home – they laughed and said the kids can’t walk home until 2nd or 3rd grade.

WHAT???? I live exactly 1 mile from the school. My son would have to walk down a residential street, cross a busy street – with a crossing guard – and then walk in another residential area to get home. I would have no problem with him walking home. He might take a while because he wants to look at the birds or a stick on the ground, but hey, he is almost 6 and that is to be expected.

It takes me at least 20 minutes to pick up each day. I have to drive to the school, trying to maneuver around the other parents trying to get a parking spot, park my car across the street in the junior high parking lot, load a sleeping toddler (who I just plucked from a nap) into a stroller, try and cross the street that the other parents are trying to maneuver to decide where to park, and wait for my child to be released. To me it is a nightmare!

Me, too. And here’s a piece that should make us all think twice: In Germany, the newspapers are trying to convince parents NOT to drive their kids to school. Good parents (they say) should think about all the time, gas, pollution, and opportunity for exercise and socialization that are wasted when they act as their children’s chauffeurs. Agreed! — Lenore

P.S. The link to the Journal piece works now — possibly only for today!

P.P. S.  Let’s try to keep the discussions here helpful and supportive. Especially (spoken like a mom) because today we have guests! L.

Stories Needed: How Do Kids Get To/From School in YOUR Town? (Wackiness Appreciated)

Hi Readers! I’m about to write a column on how kids are getting to school — with a plea for more walking or biking, when possible — and for this I need stories of kids get to school in your neighborhood. For instance, I heard from my friend that her nieces are driven by GOLF CART two blocks to the bus stop in their GATED COMMUNITY. This seemed a bit, shall we say, ridiculous. The kids are able-bodied! The community is gated! The distance is two blocks! But the mom thinks the walk is just “too risky.”

I also heard of a school in Florida where dismissal works like this: The cars line up, single file, outside the school where there are NO children outside. As a car reaches the front of the line, a school aide reads the name on the dashboard plaque issued by the school and barks into her walkie talkie, “Jeremy’s mom is here!”  At which point someone inside the school shouts, “Jeremy! Your mom is here!” And Jeremy is ESCORTED OUT to the waiting car — like an unpopular dictator being hustled into his limo.  Jeremy’s mom careens off and the process begins again, with the next car and kid. Dismissal takes half an hour.

And, finally, if this is happening in your neighborhood, I would love to hear about it:  Is it hearsay or the truth that in some school districts, the bus no longer stops at bus stops but now actually stops at each child’s home? And that some parents drive the child from the garage down to the sidewalk in front of their house to wait?

Please tell me what strange new things are happening in your neighborhood, vis a vis getting to school, including whether kids are even ALLOWED by the school to bike or walk. Thanks!

With PTAs Like These…

Hi Readers — As the school year gears up and we are talking about how great it is when kids walk to school, here’s a “real world” note I just got from one guy. Sigh:

My children’s  school has no school buses, and at our first PTA meeting one parent was being praised for setting up a private school bus, paid for by the parents.

I mentioned that since everyone is close enough to walk, that’s what we should be focusing on, getting more children to walk, but everyone comes up with the “what if?” arguments.

To which I replied, “What if?” is the greatest two-word idea killer of all time. To which my correspondent replied:

Even sadder was when I was showing actual statistics to back up my arguments that walking is much safer than driving, the head of the PTA stated: “Statistics mean nothing when it comes to the safety of my child.” To which everyone applauded.

Argh. Never said it would be easy. If any of you can think of a way to sway parental minds closed to health, safety, common sense, environmentalism and a belief in outdoor time for kids, please help this guy with some good arguments for the next PTA debacle. Er, meeting. — Lenore

Something’s Afoot: A Great Way to Start the School Year!

Hi Readers — I just love what is happening in Evanston, Illinois, and not just because I’m from that neck of the woods. Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, is encouraging all students, all ages, public, private, you name it to WALK to school for the first week of the academic year.

This is so smart because, even before parents get around to arranging car pools, or figuring out how they’re going to drive their kids to school each day, the kids get in the groove of walking. So instead of having to BREAK the daily drive habit,  the kids get off on the right foot!

Ok. Dumb, obvious joke that ins’t even that funny. Or at all funny. But still: Kudos to Evanston. Now let’s hope other school districts follow in its  (sorry, I can’t stop myself) footsteps! — Lenore