For many parents, the fact that their children will start to go to school on their own is to a certain extent something they find hard to accept. Many parents delay letting their children go out on their own in the street for a number of reasons, but above all, because of their fear that something unexpected will happen to their children and they will not be around to help them.
The truth is that no one can decisively know when a child is ready to go out on their own and go to school alone. This is different for every individual, despite estimates that the ideal age range for children to begin enjoying a degree of indepence is between 9 and 12 years old, as revealed by a study (the only one in Spain on this topic) entitled "Children, cities, and road safety: A research-based perspective”, published in 2009.
This study shows that the age at which children are considered to be able to go to school on their own is divided into two groups. One is the average age children actually go to school alone, which is at 9.4 years old; the other is the age at which parents will allow children to go to school alone, which is at 12.6 years old. There are a number of explanations for the disparity between the actual average age and the estimated age but in the end it comes down to the fact that parents want to ensure the safety of their children and therefore they estimate a higher age than the real one.
Sometimes a child is considered to be going to school alone but in fact they are going in a group, or accompanied by an older brother or sister. When we say "they are going to school on their own" we associate this with not being taken by their parents, when in reality a lot of children will go to school in a group. Therefore the actual age at which they go on their own is significantly lower than parents' estimates.
How to decide whether to let our children go to school on their own
- Firstly, the decision is a completely personal one, and once we decide that they can go to school alone we must be aware that whatever happens to them on the public roads and how they behave is our responsibility.
- If we decide that the moment has not yet arrived for them to go to school alone, we should not think that we are overprotecting them or limiting their independence. We can still let them have their independence in lots of ways on a daily basis.
- Until the age of seven, children have cognitive and visual limitations that mean they are not always able to adequately assess potential dangers.
- From the age of 10, a normal child has the sufficient psychomotor skills to be able to walk alone in the street.
- We should assesss the maturity levels of our children: do they understand the traffic lights and obey them, do they know how to spot danger, do they appear confident when we are not around. They should also know how to react when they are around strangers, namely ignoring them and looking for help if need be.
- We should consider how far away the school is and the risks or dangers in their journey. A 300 meter walk in a quiet neighbourhood where they know everyone is not the same as a journey of more than a kilometer passing through dangerous or isolated areas.
- Although each school will have its own rules in this regard, it is a good idea to let the teacher know that the child will be starting to go to school alone so that the teacher can let us know if the child has not turned up for school.
To sum up, allowing our children to travel to school alone is the personal decision of every parent and one which should be based on the child's maturity levels and the difficulty, length or dangers of the route to school. There is no ideal age across the board. It depends entirely on the specific child and should only occur once they are fully ready in every way. If they have requested to go alone and they are ready to so (and provided that they can make the journey on their own, as mentioned above) we should let them progress in this way.