Make Walking to School Safely Second Nature

Walking to and from school is a wonderful way to fit outdoor time and exercise into your child’s busy day.

By Alyson Weinberg

Be Out There

National Wildlife Federation

With childhood obesity on the rise, walking to school is a time-efficient and easy way to help get kids’ hearts pumping and legs moving. Multiple studies also show that even a little time outside can improve children’s academic performance and focus—meaning kids who walk to school arrive feeling more ready to dive in to their studies. 

Rachel Weinishke of BethesdaMaryland, a mom of two teenagers, says her kids’ daily walk to high school gives them a great start. “School starts so early. As they walk together, without the noise of a car radio or loud kids on the bus, they can wake up to the sounds of nature. They chill out and get some exercise at the same time,” she says.

With young children, parents get the added bonus of enjoying quality time with their kids while they savor the surroundings along the way, whether it’s a sky full of cloud “animals,” brightly-colored fall leaves or a squirrel scampering by.

Walking to school benefits kids physically and mentally, but some parents may have safety concerns that prevent them from allowing it. The tips below, provided courtesy of National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), can help ensure a safer journey, leading the way for more mornings and afternoons spent in the fresh air rather than the car.

            Walk the route to and from school with your children pointing out landmarks and safe places to go if they’re being followed or need help. Make the walk to and from school a “teachable moment” and chance to put their skills to the test. Make a map with your children showing acceptable routes to and from school. If your children wait for a bus, wait with them or make arrangements for supervision at the bus stop.

Instruct your children to always TAKE A FRIEND, always stay in well-lit areas, never take shortcuts, and never go into isolated areas. Teach them to stay aware of their surroundings and observe all traffic rules in place to more safely share the roads and sidewalks with others.

If anyone bothers your children or makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused, while going to or from school, teach your children to trust their feelings, immediately get away from that person, and TELL you or another trusted adult. If an adult approaches your children for help or directions, remember grownups needing help should not ask children; they should ask other adults. Instruct your children to never accept money or gifts from anyone unless you have told them it is OK to accept in each instance.

Even though there may be more safety in numbers it is still not safe for young children to walk to and from school, especially if they must take isolated routes anytime during the day or in darkness. Always provide supervision for your young children to help ensure their safe arrival to and from school.

Instruct your children to leave items and clothing with their name on them at home. If anyone calls out their name, teach them to not be fooled or confused. Teach your children about the tricks someone may try to use to confuse them or engage them in conversation. Children should also be taught that they do not need to be polite if approached and to get out of the situation as quickly and safely as possible.

Ensure current and accurate emergency contact information is on file for your children at their school. If you, or another trusted family member or friend, need to pick up your children, make sure to follow the school’s departure procedures. These procedures need to include the school’s confirmation of your children’s departure with only those you authorize to pick them up.

Teach your children if anyone tries to take them somewhere they should quickly get away and yell, “This person is trying to take me away” or “This person is not my father/mother/ guardian.” Teach your children to make a scene and every effort to get away by kicking, screaming, and resisting if anyone tries to grab them.

            Teach your children if anyone follows them on foot to get away from that person as quickly as possible. If anyone follows them in a vehicle they should turn around, go in the other direction, and try to quickly get to a spot where a trusted adult may help them. Advise them to be sure to TELL you or another trusted adult what happened.

Instruct your children to never leave school with anyone until they’ve checked with a trusted adult. If anyone tells them there is an emergency and they want your children to go with them, teach your children to always CHECK FIRSTwith you before doing anything. Also teach your children to always CHECK FIRST with you if they want to change their plans before or after school. Make sure your children always play with other children, have your permission to play in specific areas, and let you know where they are going to be. Instruct your children to TELL a trusted adult if they notice anyone they don’t know or feel comfortable with hanging around them.

In the event your children may be lost or injured, make sure they carry a contact card with your name and telephone numbers such as work and cellular. This card should be hidden from plain view. 

Whether it’s walking to and from school or on the weekends, anytime is a good time to Be Out There! Remember, a big part of keeping children healthy and well is making sure they get plenty of outdoor time—it enhances their mental, physical and emotional well-being. So, teach your children the safety rules and head outside for some fresh air. Click herefor some great outdoor activities to do with your child!


Copyright © 2001, 2004, 2007, and 2009 National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. All rights reserved.

This project was supported by Grant No. 2009-MC-CX-K002 awarded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® and 1-800-THE-LOST® are registered service marks of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. NCMEC Order #91.