Preparing for Your Child to Walk Home from School
Walking home is the only way some children can get home after school. The time your child is out of school and not at home can present concerns for some families. Knowing the route plan, how and when to contact someone, and what safety precautions will be in place can help ease the stress for not only the child but the parents as well.
Here are some helpful tips when preparing for your child to walk home from school.
Discuss the Route
Knowing the route a child takes when walking home is very important for all involved in the child’s care to know. The parents, school, and trusted neighbors or family friends should all know the set route in case of emergencies.
Having a set route makes it easier for the child to know which way to go when they are returning home from school. When planning a route, it is wise to walk the route with your child and practice until they feel safe taking the route on their own. Your child should feel confident and know exactly where to go and when.
The following are suggested when preparing a child to walk home.
- Area Map - Create a map with the school, your home, and street names is a great visual to have when your child first begins to walk home from school.
- Cellphone - Your child should have a way to contact you, or a preapproved person, throughout the duration of the time they are walking home. If your child does not have a cellphone, or they are not ready to have that responsibility, you could consider a GPS Smart Watch. These watches have the ability to track your child and you can program them to have a list of preapproved contacts.
- Weather Plan - Always have a plan in place so you and your child know what to do on inclement weather days.
Safety of the child is the most important factor when considering having your child walk home after school. A safe route plan will be the easiest, straightest path from school to home and should not include shortcuts that involve walking in between homes or buildings.
Staying on the sidewalk, closest to the grass, is the safest place for a child to walk. In the winter months it gets darker quicker and depending on the age of your child, they may be walking home closer to dusk. Be sure to have something reflective on their clothing, backpack, or coat so they’re visible to vehicle traffic.
Avoiding the use of headphones or ear buds will help your child hear their surroundings especially the noises of oncoming vehicles.
Plan for the Unexpected and Emergencies
What your child should do in case of a non-emergent situation is one of the topics that should be discussed prior to having a child walk home from school. How and when will your child contact you when they’re walking? Will you have a code word that will be used if someone (other than you) needs to pick them up during inclement weather? How will you know your child has made it home? And what should happen incase of a real emergency. These are all questions that should be discussed prior to having a child walk home alone or in a group.
Once you have planned and practiced your child’s route, they should be able to get home from school in relatively the same time frame each day. Being consistent will help ease the concerns a parent may have about a child walking home. Be sure to have your child call or text message you when they are leaving school and when they arrive home every day so you know they have made it safely.
Set Rules for the Home
Once home, your child will need to know what to do from there.
- Security – Lock the doors or is there a home security system that will need to be reset?
- Snacks – What is your child allowed to have for a snack and what appliances (if any) are they allowed to operate?
- Friends – Is your child allowed to have friends walk home with them and stay at your home?
- Homework – Will your child begin working on homework right away or will they be allowed to decompress from their day for a certain amount of time?
Rules and guidelines are essential to a successful walking home plan. Everyone should discuss the rules and guidelines together so you are all on the same page and know what to do.
Having your child walk home from school doesn’t have to be scary. Being prepared and having conversations with your child about the route, safety plans, and rules will help make the transition more comfortable for everyone.
And be sure to practice, practice, practice!
By Karen Rieck, Family Life Educator, Women’s and Children’s Community Outreach Education, Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center