Our oldest is in third grade, and sings in the school chorus. It's after school on Wednesdays, which is fine. Except on half-day Wednesdays it's before school, which is less fine. Instead of needing to be to school at 8am she needs to be there at 7:15. She really likes chorus, and feels strongly that it's worth waking up for, but as the one getting up early with her, the tradeoff feels a bit different to me.

This morning, for the first time, when my alarm went off she was already at school. We had talked about how I thought she was ready to do this, and how I really didn't want to be waking up early when she didn't need me, and we agreed she would handle it. Which she did well! When I saw her briefly at school, dropping the middle child, she was very proud of herself.

Cultivating independence can be more work in the moment, but it's really great when the investment pays dividends.

New Comment
11 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

We had our 6yo walking the two and a half blocks to school by herself.  But she wasn't willing to talk to concerned strangers, and it turns out that this is a de facto legal requirement for small people walking alone in a way it is not for adults walking alone - they couldn't figure out where she was going or if she was okay so they called the cops.  Now we have to accompany her when none of us like this at all.  It doesn't seem like a general factor of independence though... she won't get ready for bed alone.

I'm sorry that happened! That sounds stressful for everyone!

I read Lily and Anna your comment, and asked if anything similar had happened to them:

Anna: No one has ever actually asked me, but I think it might happen in the future.

Lily: I remember two times when someone asked me. The first time I was coming home from a friend's house and I got confused about directions and I was looking around, and someone asked if I needed help. Another time I was over by the park and an old lady asked if I was okay. I was just walking near the park, not doing anything weird, and they were just curious. There was also one other time when I was putting something in the mailbox in the evening [JK: just a few houses down from us] and someone asked me what I was doing and wanted to watch to make sure I went into a house.

Our kids have pretty different responses to adults asking them questions, and it does sound like that's important here.

(Before they started going out alone we also did some practice on what they would say if an adult asked them what they were doing. Talking to Julia, it sounds like she still practices these occasionally with Lily, especially when Lily is nervous about whether an adult will stop her.)

It's probably not helping that ours looks a fair bit younger than she is (or so I'm told, she looks six to me in the sense that she is larger than she was when she was five, but she's the oldest and the smallest kid in her little school).  I sometimes have to point at her and make a facial expression for the benefit of supervising neighbors when I'm walking her, especially if she runs ahead.

This is probably very location sensitive, are you both in the UK?

Nope, Bay Area.

We're both in the US, though different cities (I'm in Boston)

Oh, in the US this is dangerous, isn't it? (I mean, legally)

Sort of, but it depends where you live. Younger kids walking to school is unusual at this point, but it used to be super prevalent, and where we live there are still crossing guards. There are cases where I'm worried that the local authorities (the Department of Children and Families, DCF) would see things differently and we could get in trouble, but this isn't really one of them?

What do you think about the absurd standards for supervision of children? Or rather: How do you deal with the headwinds you encounter - if you do?

A third grader (9y) walking to school alone is reasonably normal here, and if anything went wrong in the morning before leaving she could have come in and woken me. This particular situation doesn't seem like one with much risk of conflict with authorities.

On the other hand, at 7y she was the first in her class to be walking to school alone, and we were the first parents (in institutional memory, not ever) to tell the school our kindergartner could walk home with an older sibling (2nd grade at the time). And they've gone to the park by themselves at ages where that's uncommon here.

One of the things I did before the kids started going out alone was casually talk about this with the other neighborhood parents, mostly at the park, to get a sense of how they were thinking about it. They mostly said they thought kids should be more free to go places and the reason they didn't let their kids were either that they had really young kids or that they thought other adults would report them or otherwise cause issues. This meant that once our kids were out alone a decent fraction of the adults who might see them knew what was going on and that it was ok.

Our kids also went to school alone in first grade, and that was quite uncommon here in Germany. In fact, when our kids were five, we let them go alone to kindergarten, and that was quite unheard of, and we got some pushback - specifically the kindergarteners were not willing to send them back home afterward. The kindergarten was very close by, with no street crossings, and less than five minutes to go. We were not worried about the authorities and I'm not sure we should be.