In a victory for free-range parenting, Oregon encourages kids to walk to school alone

winter walk to school
CC BY 2.0 Jason Carter

The state's Department of Transportation issued a poster telling parents to use their own judgment. How refreshing.

While the rest of America is going crazy over keeping kids safe and protected, to the point of near-suffocation, the state of Oregon is a refreshing haven of sanity. The Department of Transportation (ODOT) recently issued a poster addressing the question, “When can my child safely walk or ride to school alone?” Oregon has no legal minimum age requirement for children travelling to school on their own.

Rather than enumerating a list of frightening hypothetical scenarios and urging parents to hover, the ODOT poster encourages parents to use their brains in assessing a child’s readiness for independence.

“Being old enough is different from being ready. Think about your unique child. Can your child:
  • Pay attention?
  • Remember and follow rules?
  • Make good decisions?
  • Feel comfortable on their own?
    Some kids may be ready at a younger age or later than their peers. As parents, you know your child best, so use your parental judgment.”
  • Use your parental judgment! Those words are music to my ears. Imagine parents understanding their child and predicting with accuracy his or her ability to handle a situation! This recognition, that parents have superior knowledge of their child’s than some nosy neighborhood busybody, is long overdue, and far too rare these days.

    Oregon kids walk to school poster© ODOT

    Furthermore, Oregon’s Public Health Department actively encourages kids to walk to school.

    “Walking to school is one way for children and youth to get consistent physical activity. According to the 2013 Oregon Healthy Teens Survey, approximately one in five 8th graders and one in six 11th graders walk to school every day.”

    At the same time, youth are failing to meet daily recommendations for physical activity. A state-wide push for more pedestrian school commutes could go a long ways toward helping kids be healthier and more independent. Some schools provide maps with recommended safe routes (i.e. sidewalks, crossing guards, slower speeds, etc.), and parents can work on creating their own, tailored to their child’s preferences and needs.

    Hooray for common sense! Now, if only the rest of the U.S. would catch on…

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