Kids in traffic – getting to school
Where I live, kids are supposed to get to school by themselves. From first grade on schools and the local police encourage parents strongly to not drive their children to school but to let them walk. As a special gift every first grader receives a bright yellow and reflecting high visibility vest and it is recommended that school bags have brightly colored patches. My daughters schoolbag even has flashing lights. The police explains to parents that by driving their kids to school, they increase traffic in front of the school and endanger the kids. In order to make the way to school as save as possible, parent teacher organisations organize volunteer school crossing guards for more dangerous crossroads.
Of course we prepare our kids to walk to school. Most parents practice during the last days of kinder garden with their kid where to go and where to pay special attention to. Or some parents, like I did, accompany the kids the first couple weeks in the mornings. Actually I let my kids walk ahead of me independently, so they could prove me they knew how to do it.
In some places, especially when the way to school is longer or traffic is particularly dangerous, there are “walking busses”. Those are groups of children who walk to school together and are – at least in the beginning accompanied by an adult. The kids meet at certain points in the neighborhood where they know the group will come along and wait there for the others. When the group arrives they walk together.
When the school is further away the kids are supposed to take the bus or metro or even train. Elementary school kids, who live more than 2 kilometers or from fifth grade on 3 kilometers from school, receive a free ticket for public transportation, which they can actually use during their leisure time as well…
Studies have shown that younger kids are much more accident prone on a bike than on foot. That is why they are not allowed to ride a bike to school until they passed a special “driver’s license for bicycling”.
A driver’s license for bicycling
In Germany there are special “youth traffic schools” for children. Their goal is to support an independent and safe mobility of children and teenagers by enabling youth and teaching them the traffic rules.
In Bavaria traffic education provided by the police for children has a long tradition. The first youth traffic school in Munich was opened in the 1960s. Since 1972 almost all fourth graders receive a special traffic training. For this training the police collaborates with the schools. Students have to take theoretical lessons about the traffic rules and saftey rules for riding a bike in traffic. Then they have to take a written test. Once they pass that test, they start practical training. Instead of normal elementary school classes, they go to a special “youth traffic school” of the police station where there is a practice area with miniature streets, traffic lights, street signs, obstacles, etc. The traffic schools provide bikes for the children and all the kids get on a bike and practice the traffic rules they learned. After a couple days they have to take a practical “bikers driver’s licence” test.
Once they have passed this test, the kids are offically allowed to ride their bike to school – by themselves. This program is a good indicator for parents whether they can allow their kid to bike in traffic by themselves. The kids who did not pass the tests do need more traffic and have to take more training until they are secure on a bike in traffic and pass the test.
The advantages of an independent mobilty of children
Here are some reasons why I think teaching children to go to school independently is very important:
- Kids who walk or bike to school have actually physically moved in the mornings and can pay better attention at school (there are studies that show a strong connection between success at school and physical exercise).
- The kids love to walk with their friends from the neighborhood and have a nice chat before school starts.
- Kids learn to act responsible in traffic and to find their way.
- Being able to get to school by themselves helps kids to experience success and to feel competent and confident.
- It teaches kids to trust in their abilities.
- It takes pressure from parents, because once the kids have left the house, they can go to work without having to drive the kids.
- It is better for the environment and there is less traffic in front of schools.