Do You Drive Your Kids to School?

The other day I sat chatting with my mom at her kitchen table, in the house I grew up in. The house is half a block from the elementary school, in the middle of a neighborhood with no busy streets. My mom was lamenting the fact that she sees so many neighbors driving their children to school.

I admit, I was also a bit floored. This seemed to me, even though I’m aware that fewer and fewer children walk to school anymore, beyond the pale. Lest I sound like my father, who insists he walked several miles to school in northern Minnesota even in winter…well, I’m going to go ahead and sound like him: I walked or rode my bike everywhere as a child, especially if it was under a mile. I remember as a teenager asking my dad for a ride to work at the local drugstore a mile away one early Sunday morning in January, when it was 15 or 20 degrees. His answer? “Put on a hat.”

It was never a question that I would walk to school. The few times I remember my mom driving me, it was pouring rain. I’m glad they raised me that way. I think it built independence, confidence, and self-reliance. Not to mention the benefit to my physical health, my mental health (the minutes my mind was allowed to wander as I walked and watched the world around me were precious), and the environment.

But if you’ve read much of this blog, you know I value difficult conversations and different points of view. I love gray areas. My friend, Heather, helped me see the gray in this.

A few days after the conversation with my mom, I said to Heather: “Can you believe they drive their children half a block to school?” I mean, obviously everyone saw the issue as I did.

But she said, “Well, yeah. I would.”  Oh.

She amended that to say while she might not drive them half a block every day, she would at least walk them: “I’m a stay-at-home mom. I consider it my job to get them to school. I like that the last thing they see as they enter school is my smiling face, and the last thing they hear are words of encouragement from me.”

And as a former school social worker, she feels a lot of bullying takes place on the journey to school, whether walking or taking the bus. And, she admitted, she was concerned about strangers.

These are worthwhile reasons. I’d still let my children walk by themselves if I lived that close to school, but I like that she put me in my place a bit, and that the issue is more complex than it seemed to me at first. I’d never thought of the positive aspects.

I’d love to know what you think. Would you/do you/did you take your children to school? Why?

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29 thoughts on “Do You Drive Your Kids to School?

  1. I think it depends on how far they have to walk, how old they are and the obstacles they will encounter. If all is safe, my children will walk. Walking to school everyday provided me with some of the best memories of my life.

  2. I didn’t walk to elementary because I lived between central and Kirchhoff but I did have to walk to junior high. I agree with all of your statements above but I do feel we live in a different world so I don’t know if I would let them walk by themselves now. My girls are still toddlers, I guess this is one more thing to think about as they enter their school years.

    • Yes, this has come up a lot. Like I said below, it does definitely feel like we live in a different world, but according to objective statistics, we don’t. Not in terms of the safety of children. We just know about so many more kidnappings and car accidents than we used to. Ignorance is bliss!

  3. I rode the bus as a kid and then in high school we’d moved closer so I walked. Currently I homeschool my kids, but if I didn’t I would drive them or walk them to school. I remember being offered rides from strangers, even when I was waiting at the bus stop. And the world is worse now. Plus, it would be a selfish reason because if they were at school for all those hours, I’d miss them & need those extra minutes! I let them feel some independence by allowing them to visit a couple of the kids on our street and we have kind of a woodsy backyard that they get to explore without me watching them too closely.

    • Yikes – you were offered rides by strangers, as in it happened more than once? That must have been scary.
      Though it feels like a worse world now, statistically it’s not. But I think we definitely have it harder than our parents, in terms of knowing about so many more horrible things than our parents knew, simply because of the way media and the news have changed.

  4. Jess, your mom and I had this conversation in Dec.! We both thought it was crazy with the sheer numbers of cars just (wasting gas), lurking around– and jockeying for their primo postions. As a former “walker”, I see things as a wonderful space of time that a child learns to have some independence and logic of how to get safely from A to B under their own steam. Yes, we do live in a different world, but do not let fears totally rule this one. Several suggestions ( especially those with siblings or neighbors) is to have the kids walk in groups (as in you must wait and walk with your brother/sister/neighbor?) If you still feel need to be involved in getting them safely home, why not use this time to first take a walk/run first yourself, take the dog with you and just take a well deserved break and enjoy your time, The time on a walk will spark some wonderful conversations that would have never happened in the car- and just might leave your child with some very, very sweet memories of you. Any other suggestions, out there?

    • For sure–if you have the time and can swing it, walking with your children can be great bonding time. Though I’ve also heard often that the car is a good place to have conversations because there are no distractions (as long as you don’t have a phone, iPad, DVD player, etc in the car). As an at-home mom, I guess I have to choose when to foster independence and self-reliance in my children; and I’ve always felt walking to school, if possible, is one of those times. But it has to feel right–I walked to school with a group as a kindergartner. I wouldn’t let Henry walk right now because they have to cross Arl Hts Rd (the bane of my school-mom existence). I’ve honestly considered moving so they can walk to school.
      And yes yes yes to groups! It not only allows for some independence, but having children walk together is one of the best, if not the best, ways to prevent strangers from approaching.

  5. I have a very complicated situation but my short answer is walk with them until they are old enough to walk themselves. Last year on Monday’s Nicholas and I walked Matthew to school and picked him up after. This year Nicholas has preschool that starts at the same time as Matthew’s school does. This makes it impossible for me to walk him, so I drive him to the corner and let him go the rest of the way alone. (We live 3 blocks from school). Nicholas and I do walk to pick him up after school. Next year, when they both are in the same school I intend to walk with them but I’m thinking that once they are in 1st and 3rd I can let them walk together without me. They have to be driven by daycare the rest of the week since I’m working those days. Matthew has asked me to let him walk or ride his bike alone. I think it gives him a sense of independence.

    • Yes, you have it much more complicated than our moms did! And I can see wanting to walk to pick him up if you don’t have the choice the rest of the week. A lot of variations and things to consider. It’s hard, hard, hard, this parenting stuff.

  6. Wow, this is a topic that I feel strongly about! I grew up in the Adirondacks of upstate New York and had to walk nearly a mile (down a mountain) to the bus stop every day, starting from first grade. Our house rule was that we walked unless it was below zero. Even my friends who lived “in town” walked to school. When I later became a teacher, I was shocked and appalled that kids as old as sixth grade were not allowed (by the school) to walk home by themselves. (This was in an affluent, extremely safe neighborhood outside of Boston.) Of course, there are extraordinary circumstances — kids living in genuinely unsafe, crime-ridden neighborhoods — but otherwise there is no reason why kids can’t walk to school, like they do nearly everywhere else in the world. The idea that we live in a more unsafe world is simply not true and not backed up by the actual statistics. As Lenore Skenazy constantly points out using data and studies on her blog Free Range Parenting, kids are actually much MORE safe than they were decades ago, in terms of accidents, crimes against children, abductions. The only difference is that we now have a media that knows it can prey upon parents’ fears to highlight tragedies.

    • I love that there’s a blog about this (of course!) and similar topics. I’ll have to check it out. Yes, I’ve read the same and I think it’s accepted but not widely known–that we are safer, or at least as safe as, the 1970s and 80s. We just hear about more now, for better or worse.

  7. This is interesting. Last week, I passed a little girl – no more than seven years old – standing by herself on a very busy corner, waiting for the bus, and I wondered how I’ll ever manage to work up the courage to give my child that kind of freedom at such a young age. Your perspective is a good reminder that there are many things to be learned from having wings … we’re preparing them for the most likely event that they’ll grow into adults that need skills function in this world, not the very unlikely scenario that something bad will happen. That’s a parent’s constant internal battle, I think.
    For what it’s worth, I only remember one or two times I was allowed to bike to school by myself, but we lived about a mile away on very curvy, dangerous rural roads.The likelihood of me getting hit by a car (or the bus) was legitimately pretty high, so I just didn’t have the option.
    By the way, I don’t comment often, but I almost always read what you post and truly enjoy your thoughts. Even if I have only two seconds to read, your writing makes me stop and think for a moment – thanks for sharing it all!

  8. When the children were at primary school my husband or I walked them to and from school every day. It’s a 5 minute walk and we all enjoyed it. I wouldn’t let them walk alone because I have heard that until a child is 10 their peripheral vision isn’t fully formed and here in France the cars don’t necessarily stop at the pedestrian crossing – I know because 2 months after arriving here 8 years ago, I and my 2 & 3 year old were knocked over on a pedestrian crossing that had its own traffic light by a car reversing, we were taken to hospital in an ambulance and my daughter x-rayed, but all ok, but all very wary of cars and I always tell them, even when it’s green to be very cautious before crossing.

    Now that my daughter is in college (here in France that’s the 4 years between 11 years and 15 years), we walked her to school to begin with, until she asked if she could walk by herself. So she does. It takes longer to take the car, but on the very rare occasion if it rains or something, we might drive.

    • Interesting! I hadn’t heard that, about peripheral vision. Just another reminder that there are SO many things to think about.

      That must have been extremely scary, being hit by a car with your children. So glad the story ended well.

  9. I agree with you and Katie. It depends on the circumstances, age and distance, but while your friend is well meaning and surely a loving mom, walking gets them a bit of exercise that most kids aren’t getting today. It also gives them independence and let’s them think on their own about the world and all the things in it, the trees, the bugs along the way etc.. If there is any bullying beyond men teasing then of course that needs to be dealt with. But other than that it helps them learn that not everyone in this world thinks they are the best to come along since Jesus. They learn to deal with things in a small yet generally safe environment. While your friend is well meaning, the longer term message is that they need their mother to navigate life, and doesn’t build their skills in the early years. And finally what does that bode for our culture when they do grow up expecting the same kind of treatment. I don’t mean to sound harsh or just a male suck it up kinda guy. I’m not that kind of person. But I do think this culture is opening up a bigger can of worms as a result of even more over protectiveness. We’ve already seen what that has done on the scale it has been done. I think there’s more positives than negatives by letting the little ones spread their wings a bit, safely and within reason. Oh, one more point. Cars being started to drive a block or so. Doesn’t that also teach them to not be concerned about our resources for all, or just about their creature comforts are really all that matters?

  10. Dang it stupid spell check! In the first couple of sentences I meant beyond MEAN teasing. I said men teasing which means I surely would waslk my kids to school until they were old enough to conceal carry. LoL! I agree the media has played on all our fears so much more than we’d like to believe.

    • I WAS scratching my head a bit. If our baseline is “men teasing” the kids, we’re in trouble.

      Yes, it’s all about what we know. When we hear every day that a child has been kidnapped, abused, struck by a car, bullied, diagnosed with cancer, broken a bone, it seems like one of those things can actually happen to us every day.

  11. Great post with great comments. I wish I had something to add but would just be repeating what others have already said. I do know it’s easy to judge what the other parents are or are not doing. I used to shake my head and laugh out loud when I’d see some parents carrying their child’s backpack. I could NOT believe it! Then one day my son came home with a few extra books. I picked up his backpack to move it out of my way and I could not believe the weight of it. Finally I understood! No wonder they were helping them! Mostly as parents we do what we think is best at any given time. Also WE ROCK! ps I think we are very shortly moving to laptops 🙂

  12. I too grew up about 2 blocks from my grade school, and walked or rode my bike every day from Kindergarten to 6th grade! A group of us even used to walk or rollerblade to/from junior high, which was about 1.5 miles one way (thanks, Google Maps). Shoot, I even remember walking to high school during summer school, just because the weather was nice. But, I digress. I completely agree with your assessment that walking to school a child made me independent and self reliant. It’s kind of sad that the world we live in now is so different than the one we grew up in!

    • It is kind of sad, and I think a lot of it is due to how many horrible things we are privy to because of the media now. It’s really hard not to think about some of these things as you watch your child walk off. But I’m still a fan of letting them walk to school with friends whenever possible. I’m an at-home mom, so I have the luxury of taking bonding walks at other times.

  13. I’m in the same camp you are. I think that walking and spending that little bit of time alone is a good thing for them. Gives them some independence and head clearing time. There are parents in my neighborhood who drive their kids to the bus stop–and they live literally 2 houses away from the stop. They sit there in their cars so their kids can wait in a warm car. I don’t get it.

    I’m a mean mom. I make them stand out there in the cold, snow, wind and rain. I call it character building.

  14. Jessica, so glad I found this blog! I like to think about what I would do in certain situations and seeing that I now have 3 little boys of my own, its imperative that I make those decisions and stick to them. Overall, I can say that each person has their reasons, needs, and personal preferences to do what they will with regard to getting their children to school. We all need to remember that if nothing else, we can parent our children gingerly, confidently and earnestly, to the best of our ability, and our children will see strong parenting. Am I stretching here for the good in all of it, yes! But seriously, parenting is HARD and it’s SCARY. There are a million things to decide on every day that can mold each of our little ones – so again, thank you for making all of us think.

    • Thanks so much for reading, Carrie. It is SO hard and scary. What actually (and sort of ironically) helps me when I feel overwhelmed is knowing that I’m the biggest influence. So if I just try to be the best person I can be–honest, respectful, confident, hard-working, etc–then that will rub off far more than any talks or decisions about other things and other people in trying to “mold” the kids.

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