How to Stay Safe Walking to School
With the fall season upon us, days grow shorter and weather turns colder. Children walking to school during this time must bundle up and pay even more attention to their surroundings than before. With leaves falling, rain puddling, cars whooshing by and darkness ever present, walkers face many dangers getting to school. That’s why it’s important for parents to set aside some time to review walking rules that keep kids safe as they travel on foot.
Some Problems for Walkers
Going back to school after weeks of summer vacation presents challenges for kids who walk to school. After being off-schedule for so long, it’s difficult for most children to get back in the swing of things. Even short holiday breaks are hard, as kids may stay up and sleep later, spend more time focused on screens, or drive long distances with their families to visit relatives.
The result: tired, unfocused, anxious or excited youngsters who unintentionally place themselves at risk while walking to school.
Small children face great danger on foot because they haven’t developed the capacity to analyze and respond to what’s happening around them. Therefore, they tend to dart out into the street, play on the road or take their time crossing.
Older kids often lack the ability to gauge speed and distance, so they may think a car is traveling slower than it actually is. In addition, many kids freeze when they see a car backing out of a driveway or parking lot, unsure whether to stop or keep going.
Finally, distraction causes further problems. Walkers wearing headphones or ear buds while listening to music, talking on their phones, playing games or surfing social media put themselves in even greater danger. Engaging in these activities causes kids to miss cars turning in front of them, crossing signals changing and even bumps in the sidewalk that may cause them to stumble and fall.
Situations like all these put students walking to school at increased risk of injury or harm.
Tips to Keep Kids Safe
To keep kids safe, parents should teach young people the following rules for walking to school – and review them often.
Tip #1: Pay Attention to Your Surroundings
Cars, busses, people, other walkers, animals and items in the street or on the sidewalk can all affect walkers’ safety.
First, teach your kids to give others they come in contact with the right-of-way – and never to approach other people or vehicles. Next, tell them to avoid stopping to pick up things they find or petting animals they’re not familiar with. Lastly, talking to strangers? Well, we all know that’s a no-no…but make sure your kids know it, too!
Tip #2: Make Sure Drivers See You
Kids walking to school should make eye contact with all drivers. It’s also a good idea to wave at cars so they know you see them, as well.
Other tips for visibility: One, wear brightly colored clothing or coats. This makes students easier to see from moving cars. Two, place reflective stickers on clothing, backpacks or any items kids hold in their hands. The flashing colors attract light and attention, helping to keep kids safe.
Tip #3: Look Both Ways before Crossing
Here’s the rule to model for your kids: Look left, look right, look left again…then cross without delay. This ensures students see everything around them – and gets them out of the roadway quickly, minimizing the opportunity for danger.
Tip #4: Put Distractions Away
As mentioned above, electronics pose a huge distraction hazard for kids walking to school. Therefore, concerned parents should make it clear that having cell phones, game systems, headphones and the like in sight is never OK – and strictly enforce this rule. Instead, require kids to place those items in their backpacks turned off. Following this tip will help keep kids safe and sound walking to school.
Tip #5: Watch & Respond to Traffic Signals
Crossing busy streets poses a definite safety threat for walkers. Sometimes they don’t see cars coming or they don’t realize how fast vehicles are traveling. They also may not realize how long it will take them to get all the way across the road to the other side.
You can help by teaching your students to watch the traffic lights and only cross streets in crosswalks or on corners. Show them the call buttons they must push for permission to cross at intersections, then demonstrate walking when the pedestrian signal lights up. Also, emphasize the importance of moving quickly to reach the other side before the light changes.
In areas where there’s no crossing indicator, teach kids to walk to corners before crossing. This makes them more visible to drivers and helps keep them safer walking to school.
Tip #6: Stay on Sidewalks & Paths
Kids encounter many pitfalls while walking to school, including debris in the street, speeding cars and potholes. By instructing them to walk only on sidewalks and paved paths whenever possible, you can help keep kids safe and off roadways. Drivers also know to watch for pedestrians in these areas, so that ensures an additional layer of protection for walkers.
Tip #7: Walk with a Friend or in a Group
Kids walking to school with others or in a group are easier to spot. The larger the group, the more likely they will be seen. That idea goes both ways, too: the more students that are walking together, the more likely they are to notice dangers in their way.
Of course, friends can also distract friends, so make sure your children understand the importance of keeping their heads and eyes up and talking to a minimum, especially in high-traffic areas.
Tip #8: Keep Hands Free
Walking to school requires focus and concentration. If your kids need to transport something to school, such as a special project, poster or snacks for the class, make arrangements to drop those off by car. Otherwise, students should place all their belongings in their backpack – or you can clip them to the outside.
Having nothing in their hands keeps kids from dropping things and putting themselves in harm’s way going back to retrieve them. Most importantly, it removes distraction and allows youngsters to focus on the task at hand: walking to school safely.
Tip #9: Walk through Residential Neighborhoods
With slower speed limits and sidewalks present in most residential neighborhoods, kids can avoid many dangers by walking there, rather than through busier areas. Even if it takes them longer to get to school via neighborhoods, encourage your children to leave the house earlier to help ensure they arrive at school safely.
Walking to School in All Seasons
Regardless of the season, kids walking to school face challenges that they may not be equipped to overcome. That’s why they need parental guidance to ensure they make good choices and stay safe.
By reviewing these tips with your student walkers, practicing them together, and reminding your kids of them often, you can rest assured your children will arrive safely at school day after day – and grow up knowledgeable walkers.