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Moms Talk: Walking or Riding to School Alone

One of the moms wonders whether her second grader is ready to bike to school.

On an unseasonably cold day in early May, my second grader completed a bike safety class offered by her elementary school and the River Forest police department.

The second grade bike safety class is a rite of passage that River Forest elementary school students look forward to from the moment they enter kindergarten. 

Students must complete the class to be permitted to ride their bikes to school and — this is the key part — leave them on one of the bike racks on school grounds. A few days after she took the bike safety class, when the weather finally (and fleetingly) turned nice, my daughter asked if she could ride her bike to school with a friend from down the street.

Although I should have been prepared for this question — given that she had taken the class and everything — I was not.

I stammered and hesitated and ultimately demurred, saying that I needed to speak to her father about it before she would be permitted to ride to school without an adult.

Of course, my husband is just as unsure as I am.

How do we know if our daughter — who is, as you might have guessed, the older of our two children — is ready to get herself to and from school? She is a good bike rider and a responsible, if somewhat spacey, child.

But she's seven years old. To get to school, our daughter would have to cross several streets, some busy and some less so, without a crossing guard.  Once she got to school, she would have to secure her bike on one of the racks and lock it with a key that she then would have to not lose.

This is the same girl who lost three pairs of mittens and a jacket this winter. You see why I am hesitating.

On the one hand, how is my daughter ever to learn responsibility and to trust her own judgment if I do not give her opportunities to develop these traits?

On the other hand, how can I be sure that she is ready for this responsibility?

I don't think of myself as overprotective or a stereotypical helicopter parent, but I will admit to feeling panicked about the idea of sending my first-born off to school by herself. My husband, who grew up in a small town, claims that he was walking to school by himself as early as first grade.

Many of my friends and neighbors report similar experiences.

I, on the other hand, grew up in the middle of a city and attended a private school miles from my home. Walking or biking was never an option, although I did start taking a city bus home from school by myself when I was in fifth grade. 

Jennifer Moore May 18, 2011 at 04:46 PM
I feel your pain, Emily! This topic frustrates me so. Like your husband, I walked often to and from school and loved that little time with friends. It's exercise. It's thinking time. It is a time to become more aware of community or architecture and to become more independent. I want so much to let my child walk (or ride a bike) as I did when I grew up... but it's a different place. People are driving and talking on cell phones or worse, texting and checking email. There are more cars on the streets. Last year, lack of funding cut the crossing guard near my house and I'd have to cross my fingers that no one cutting through on Washington Blvd. would blow a yellow or red light. I feel like I have far too many reasons why she can't vs. why she should or can. So in the meantime, she goes with me. When the time comes and we are both ready, there will be tons of practicing and then me secretly a block behind watching her every step. I don't consider myself an overprotective parent, I just really, really love my kids and would rather not find them playing a real life version of "Frogger" out on Washington Blvd. or elsewhere cars are flying through oblivious to our little ones trying to get to school.
Jacky May 18, 2011 at 08:31 PM
I walked to school by myself in 1st grade when I was growing up. Though I can not imagine letting my children do that. Our k-5 school doesn't allow bike riding to school so that was never an issues, but walking alone started in 4th grade for my daughter. Admittedly it took me that long to let go because, as a working parent, the walk to school was quality time with us and a great way for me to stay connected with the other parents.
Jill Salzman May 18, 2011 at 11:40 PM
You mean after all this worrying about naptimes and diaper changes and feedings, there's more to worry about??? I hope to allow my kiddo to walk to elementary school -- with friends. There's accountability, cooperation, coordination, and exercise. Biking? I'll wait and see what your husbands decide.

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