I am always eager to promote and happily encourage kids to walk to school. In fact, I have written many posts about the physical, psychological and social benefits of walking to and/or from school. However, in those posts I always say it is important to teach our children about walking safely to school. I am not referring to street proofing kids, although that is super important too. I am referring to teaching our kids how to literally safely walk to school. This can mean different things to different families, depending on where you live and the route you take. Today I wanted to share a few walking safety tips for kids…and adults…and a few great online resources where you can find even more information about street safety. Education is power and in this case educating our kids can keep them alive. ** These tips are totally age dependent…think about the age of your child and adapt these tips according to his/her age **
Understanding Why Walking Safely is Important – Talk to children about why walking safely is important. Walking along the side of a road is much different than walking through a park. This is not about instilling fear in children…it’s about helping kids understand the reality of walking along side a road. This discussion can take place at home or while walking along the street. Unfortunately, vehicles that don’t stop behind the crosswalk line, vehicles that are speeding and drivers that are distracted behind the wheel are pretty easy to spot. Pointing these incidents out to children can help them understand the importance of walking safety rules.
A Child’s Point of View – As a parent it is important sometimes to get down and look at the world from a child’s point of view…literally. Often times young children cannot see over cars, around corners and beyond obstructions like shrubs and fences. Take a walk with your kids, but stop and get down and check out your child’s perspective. The world might look entirely different.
Stop and Look Both Ways – Remember this one from when you were a kid? It still applies and it is still the easiest way to avoid accidents. When you come to a street, stop and look both ways. My girls are not very good at this one. They rely on me to tell them when they can cross safely. I now leave it up to them to tell me when it is safe to cross the street. Stopping and looking both directions is so basic and so important.
Unplug…at least one ear…from the iPod – This one is a tough one. I remember walking along with my Sony Walkman headphones, bopping away to the music on my mixed tape as a teenager. I get it…listening to music is cool. However, now kids (and parents) walk while texting, and with the headphones on…it’s a dangerous combination. The number of distractions is too high. Pull one earbud out and don’t text while crossing a street. This one is a rule that needs to be instilled from an early age.
Make Eye Contact – Kids need to understand that just because they can see a car, it doesn’t mean that the driver sees them. Pedestrians have to make eye contact with drivers to be certain that the driver really does see them. The need to make eye contact re-emphasizes the fact that kids cannot be distracted when they are crossing the street. An easy way to demonstrate the importance of eye contact is to have your child walk through a room in the house while looking down at the ground. While they are looking down hold up different objects – one at a time. After they are done walking, ask them to tell you the objects you were holding up. They just might have a hard time identifying the objects, since they didn’t make eye contact.
When the Light Turns Green, Make Sure That the Cars Have Stopped – Just because the little “walk” symbol has lit up, kids still need to make certain that the oncoming traffic has stopped. Distracted drivers can miss the red light and keep right on sailing through an intersection. It only takes a couple of seconds to make certain that the cars have stopped before stepping onto the road.
Cross the Street at Designated Areas – Life would be much easier if people could walk across the street wherever they like. But, life isn’t that easy…nope you have to cross at an intersection or crosswalk. Stepping out into traffic from a non-designated area is dangerous. Take the extra trip to the crosswalk, it’s worth it to have drivers see you. When kids get to the crosswalk, make sure they push the crosswalk button. Activating the lights is very important, anything you can do to make drivers aware that you are stepping onto the road is a great thing.
Driveways, Lane ways and Parked Cars – A walk to school can mean walking past driveways, lane ways and parked cars…but are those cars really sitting still? Everyone is in rush to get where they are going in the morning, taking care when walking across driveways, lanes and past parked cars is important. Teach kids to understand the rear lighting system on a car. What do brake lights look like? What lights are bright when a car is going to reverse?
Walk the Walk – Parents are a child’s number one role model. If you don’t follow the rules that you have set out for your kids then everything you have said will have been a waste of time. Haven’t you ever heard your child say “But, mom you said we couldn’t ____, so why are you doing it?” If you are going to talk the talk – you have to walk the walk.
Be a Responsible Driver – Respect pedestrians when you are behind the wheel of your car. We all play a very important role in road safety. Many of the rules for walking apply to driving too. Make eye contact, stop and look both ways. When you are out driving with your children point out the many positive examples of road/walking safety.
When I read about accidents involving pedestrians and vehicles it makes my heart ache. It was a tragic accident that inspired me to write this post today. A young girl was struck and killed by a dump truck on her way to school in Toronto yesterday. On the first day of school…and she was so close to her school. The investigation is still ongoing. There is no doubt about the fact that drivers are responsible for pedestrian safety too. As I have said, I am a huge proponent of getting out and walking with our children. I walk a lot, as a family we walk a lot. Walking can be safe. Pedestrians don’t need to be fearful. I truly believe that having a conversation around walking safety with kids early and often is every parent’s responsibility.