Tips for walking to school

Living Well | Words: Jade Thrupp | Photos: Shannonn Morris | Posted on 29 January 2019

Most Victorian children are dropped to school by car. Use our tips to see if your child is ready to make the trip on their own.

As the summer holidays wind up, many parents will be asking whether their child is old enough to walk to school. VicHealth research shows that more than 60 per cent of parents would like their children to walk to school more frequently, yet only 19 per cent of kids in Victoria routinely make the trip on foot, down from 40 per cent Australia-wide in the 1970s. 

It’s more about individual competence of the child rather than an exact age. For many children this should be around 11 or 12.
two girls walking to school

Few dispute the health benefits of kids having a more active commute, especially with new data showing almost one in three Victorian children are overweight or obese.Yet the convenience of dropping children on their way to another destination, along with fears about pedestrian accidents and ‘stranger danger’, mean that most kids are dropped off by car.  

So how do you know when your child is ready to walk to school? 

RACV’s education programs coordinator Rebekah Smith says there is no exact age at which a child is ready to get around on their own.  

“It’s more about individual competence of the child rather than an exact age. For many children this should be around 11 or 12.”  

Weigh up the benefits and risks of allowing your child to make their own way to school.

The law doesn’t specify an age at which a child can be left unsupervised, but takes into account the child and the reasonableness of the situation. When it comes to walking to school this can include your child’s cognitive ability, attentiveness, understanding of road rules and the route.

A mature 10-year-old might manage well, while an easily distracted 12-year-old might not fully grasp the road-safety message. It’s down to your parental judgement and comfort levels.   

As you approach the new school year, weigh up the benefits and risks of allowing your child to make their own way to school. There are plenty of resources to help, such as raisingchildren.net.au and Kidsafe. 

RACV Street Scene is a free program that teaches children about road safety, with schools able to book a visit from an RACV traffic safety educator who will run sessions to suit the school’s local area. VicHealth’s Walk to School month encourages an active commute by recording how many students walk, ride or scoot to school and hands out prizes for schools with the highest levels of participation.  

Five ways to tell if your child is ready to walk to school  

The best way to test your child’s readiness to get themselves to school is to make the trip with them a few times and see how they manage. Find the safest route together and look out for: 

  1. Age and maturity: is your child attentive, aware of their surroundings and sensibly behaved? 
  2. Their level of road safety awareness. For instance, do they stop, look, listen and think before they cross a road? 
  3. Familiarity with the local neighbourhood: are they able to follow your chosen route confidently? 
  4. Walking/riding/scooting ability: are they competent and confident whatever the mode of travel? If riding, are they strong and steady enough to go without supervision? 
  5. Preparedness: Do they know what to do if they get hurt or a stranger approaches? What is the back-up plan?