By Priscilla Dunstan
Now that the weather is warming up your child may wish to start walking home with friends or on their own. If you live close by and you feel your child is old enough and emotionally ready, following these hints will make it a safer and easier task.
Pick a route that is easy for your child to remember, even if it may take a little longer. Turning one corner is easier for your child to remember than having to turn five. Organize for your child to walk with another child. They still get the independence of walking home, but there is safety in numbers. Walk the path home with them physically a number of times, and a few times walking behind, without them knowing. When you walk the route with your child, focus on the things your child will notice.
Tactile children will notice the feel of the pavement, the number of people walking by and the park where they play soccer. Use these factors as markers for them to know where they are going. Your tactile child will tend to think they are ready before they actually are, so you as the parent will have to be firm. You will need to impress upon them the rules of walking without horseplay. No running after a friend to say hello, no crossing the road to get a ball and always look before crossing the street. Giving tactile children a job to do on the way home, such as picking up the milk or bread, is a way of focusing them, giving them a landmark and also a “safe place” on the way home.
Visual children will need visual cues. Walk the path with them a number of times, pointing out various landmarks, such as a blue house at the corner where they turn left, a supermarket to show when they have walked too far and will need to go back. As you walk the path notice the people who are in their gardens regularly, often a nice old lady who tends to her roses will appreciate a hello, and will be a reassuring sight for your visual child to see as they walk home. Have them draw a map to keep in their bag, in case they get lost.
Taste and smell children will tend to be older than most kids before they feel comfortable to walk home by themselves and even then, they will prefer to walk home with a friend. Due to this child’s sensitivity, and often shyness, they easily can get flustered when unsure and will feel uncomfortable asking for help. Make sure you have a clear plan of what to do, who to ask and how to call, if they ever were to find themselves lost. Teach them about back-tracking.
Auditory children will want to avoid busy and noisy streets, and this is where they often get lost. If a quieter route can’t be found, explain to them, that although it may be uncomfortable, it’s important that they stick to the path decided. Notice the other sounds that your child will routinely hear and use them as reference points. The noisy car repair shop, the barking dog on the corner to the church bells along the avenue are all good reference points for knowing the way home. Auditory children, even more than other children, rely on their hearing so it’s even more important to not allow them to walk home using their iPods or mp3 players. They need to be fully aware and focused on the task at hand.
Put an easy to understand map in your child’s bag, with addresses and phone numbers and make sure they know how to use their cellphone. Have them text you as they leave school and when they get home. And don’t forget to have many run-thoughs, and revisions — especially after any breaks from school.