September 4, 2014 7:56 pm

How young is too young for kids to walk to school alone?

Watch above: How young is too young for kids to walk to school alone? Kendra Slugoski speaks to parents.

EDMONTON — The question of how old a child should be before walking to school by themselves is one each parent must tackle.

Since maturity levels among children vary, as do the complexity of routes, there may be no cut and dry answer. But researchers have come out with a guideline: they recommend children should be supervised while crossing the road until they’re nine years old, which typically equates to Grade 4.

“Children at that age tend to have more cognitive ability to discern what’s dangerous in their environment…so they can make more safe choices,” explained Don Voaklander of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research.

A recent report suggests that, in general, kids under nine “have unique characteristics that contribute to their high risk for pedestrian injury, including size, limited peripheral vision, poor skills in determining where sounds come from, and limited hand-eye coordination.”

Did you know?

  • Short car trips contribute significant amounts of pollution because they usually occur while an engine’s pollution control system is cold and ineffective.
  • Canadian kids aged 5-11 spend 7.6 hours being sedentary; those aged 12-17 spend 9.3 hours.
  • There are 26 judgement skills needed to cross a street safely.

Sources: Active Healthy Kids Canada, Safe Healthy Active People Everywhere


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Aside from difficulty judging speed and distance, researchers say the first thing a younger child notices when a car is approaching is its colour.

Concerns over safety is why Andrea Dobler wouldn’t want her son — who just started kindergarten — walking to school until he’s in Grade 6.

“The traffic, definitely. There’s a few busy roads I even have a hard time driving across,” she said. “And then, I don’t want them stolen.”

READ MORE: New school zone speed limits in Edmonton

Another mother, Jennifer Cheng, believes anywhere between eight to 10 could be reasonable. She raises another concern, though: “The kids nowadays aren’t always shown what to do as much or given that responsibility; and therefore, they don’t know how to grow with that responsibility as well.”

READ MORE: Teen caught driving 100 km/h in 30 zone in Sherwood Park

Researchers agree. A report from Safe Healthy Active People Everywhere (SHAPE) states that: “Parents who walk with their children have the opportunity to teach their children how to walk safely. They have a chance to check their child’s judgement and reinforce safe decisions.”

It also says children today are 40 per cent less active than they were 30 years ago. The fact that 62 per cent of Canadian parents say their kids aged five to 17 years are always driven to and from school, according to statistics, may have something to do with that.

“If you live within a reasonable distance of the school and your child is [old enough]…they should be walking,” said Voaklander. “It’s good for their fitness, keeps them active, gets them some fresh air, and maybe [helps them] blow off some steam before getting to class.”

With files from Kendra Slugoski, Global News

© Shaw Media, 2014

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