Walking home from school (shine only)

Walking to school

My kids walk home from school each day, plodding a well-worn path out the back of the school, down a track past the scout hall, across a local oval and playground and down our long, winding street. It’s about a 15-20 minute walk, depending on enthusiasm.

Max, my enigma, who was like a skittish horse at the gates of school each morning, baulking at the idea of leaving the nest, begged me to let him walk home by himself at the ripe old age of nine. I had to let him, of course. An anxious kid who isn’t anxious about things other kids are anxious about gets to do the things. That’s just the way it is.

When he first started walking by himself, I kitted him out with a mobile phone, which he promptly forgot 4 days out of 5. Left it at home, left it at school, left it anywhere but in his bag, ready to make the emergency phone call to his mother when the men in the white van offered him the lollies. After a while, he stopped taking it altogether. The white van did not come.

By then, I was comforted by the fact that there was a procession of kids tracking the same route he was on. He never wanted for company. Our street seemed suddenly full of kids treading the path that generations of kids have worn down before them. These days, Max chooses to walk even when I happen to be at the school in the afternoon. Memorably he insisted on walking home after getting off the bus from three nights away at Year 6 camp. He loves a walk, that Max.

The girls, on the other hand, would do anything to get out of walking home from school. As early as the night before they start talking about ‘sore feet’ and ‘worrying’ that they ‘won’t be up to’ the walk home the next day. Lottie has taken to limping up the stairs after brushing her teeth.

“What’s wrong with your leg?” I will ask.

“Oh, nothing,” she will sigh. “I’ll see how it feels in the morning… I might not be able to walk home from school tomorrow… sigh…”

When the weather is inclement (I do love that word, inclement and am happy to have included it here), we have a rule: if mum’s at the tree, I’m driving them home. If mum’s not at the tree, walk home. A simple, elegant rule, easily understood without a trace of wiggle room. Which is why I was very surprised to get a call from the school last week, when the weather was on-again-off-again with rain followed by sun. I’d made the call to keep working rather than head out to pick them up. A little light rain followed by sun never hurt a kid, surely.

“Your dear daughters are here at the office,” said our lovely office lady. “Apparently no one came to pick them up from school today?”

Oh the shame!

“They walk home from school,” I hastily informed the office lady.

“They said there was thunder rumbling,” said the office lady. “Can you please arrange someone to come and collect them?”

“It’s sunny out right now,” I protested. “I’m happy for them to walk.”

“Our policy is that if they have reported to the office as uncollected, a parent or guardian needs to come and sign them out.”

When she said ‘uncollected’, we both knew she meant unloved.

So, I had to front up to the office like the world’s most neglectful mother and sign my daughters out of school. I must have had a face on me like the non-existent thunder, because the girls looked suitably chastened. The office lady was not.

“It’s a long way for you to walk home,” she said mournfully to the girls.

“It’s not,” I snapped. “It’s just over a kilometre and it’s good for them.”

She made a little sad face at the girls anyway. I love the office lady, but not then.

“Do you even know where we live?” I asked her, in a tone that implied I was really saying I know where you live, lady. She made another little sad face at the girls.

Now the girls are even less excited to make the journey home each day. My claims that it is a privilege and a joy to get to walk home from school fall on deaf ears. “It’s so healthy!” I exclaim. “It’s exercise without even trying! Through our neighbourhood! A nice break between school and home! A good way to spend time together! Fresh air! So many of the world’s children will never get to experience the independence of walking home!”

Nup. “The office lady said it was a long way,” the girls protest.

“You walk,” I said. “It’s just what you do.”

I am so very, very tempted to make them walk to school as well.

Harsh or fair? Joy or Burden?

[Image: Pexels]

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  1. TheDormouse says

    Fair!! I’m a Max. I shrivel up like the Wicked Witchford at most forms of exercise, but this summer I walked seven miles in four hours (lunch in-between). I walked to and from school almost a mile each way; now I don’t have to, I miss it.

    How’s the high school conundrum?

    • Maxabella says

      Thanks for asking! He is going very well indeed. It is almost surreal that he is coping so well and I have to fight the ‘don’t jinx it’ feelings and remind him how proud we are of him.

      I miss having a set incidental exercise regime too. The flipside of the kids walking home by themselves is that I no longer walk up and back to get them!!!

  2. says

    This is very topical – We’re going through this at the moment.

    We live about 300-400 m from school (seriously. Yes, it’s not far, and although there’s a main road in between, there’s a lovely crossing lady on the lights). One child has no problem walking, but won’t walk on his own. He wants a parent there (even now. Yes, he does). The other doesn’t love walking, but if she can walk without parents, she is a lot happier and will do it (although pouring rain – different matter). She resents the parent influence. It causes great conflict, especially on Thursdays when I am home and ‘could’ walk them. It raises a whole lot of issues (frustratingly).
    – What is the boundary between tough, resilience building love, and not acknowledging some underlying fears (and it is nice that he wants to chat and have ‘quality time’ together, I guess)?
    – What is the degree to which you work with one child, and then the other feels unacknowledged?
    And (if you try the taking it in turns approach),
    – what happens when the one who’s turn it it flatly denies going? When do you draw the line and say – you’ve made your choice, buddy, and I’m not letting your brother / sister be late because of it, so I’ll have to leave you?

    These are some of the seemingly minor questions that are multiplied across so many areas of my kids’ lives at the moment. Life is not proving to be straightforward at the moment …

    • Maxabella says

      Classic overthinker moves here, Helen. My take is that the afternoons are easy – I’d instil a rule that they walk home together. That way your boy isn’t alone and your girl isn’t with a parent. At the end of the day (literally, as it happens), that’s the rule and it they don’t like it… they have to walk anyway because no one is coming to pick them up. That’s what I would do… but I’m not you and they are not my kids so don’t listen to me, okay! x

  3. says

    Goodness me Max, your office lady would have a fit if she new my 4 year old and I walk to and from preschool 5 days a fortnight. It’s apparently a 1.7km walk, up and down hills. Sometimes my son rides his scooter home from school instead of walking.

    I would be quite tempted to pull that office lady aside sans kids for a further chat. I feel her attitude is quite out of line.

    • Maxabella says

      Don’t be too upset – she’s actually a wonderful woman and she probably had an earful of the girls’ woes about walking home from school in the 10 minutes it took me to get up there. She is ALL for the kids and that’s the way it should be really. I love her usually, just not so much that day!! :)

  4. says

    We live 150 metres from school, so it’s walking here (rain or shine)! My eldest walks herself along with a couple of other girls in our street, they like to get to school early. I walk my 5 year old. My middle girl goes with whoever she feels like on that day.
    After Dubai, where it was a 10km drive, all the kids love the freedom of walking to school and not having to deal with the school carpark (which I’m absolutely certain is the hottest place on the planet).

    • Maxabella says

      150 metres is achievable in anyone’s book. It’s a lovely thing your kids get to do and less traffic around the school is good for EVERYONE :)

  5. says

    Make ’em walk I say 😉 Seriously I would. Having teenage/adult daughters I realise I could have and should have done so much more to create healthy habits. Yes they played soccer, dance but still walking is more vital than I realised.

  6. Cat @ life through the haze says

    Oh how I love this! Your girls should compare notes with my girls! I make them walk even in the rain lol! Well they are supposed to walk but I think they catch the bus!


  7. says

    Kitty walks to and from school every day.. it 10-15mins or 5 if she runs which she often does on the way home.. 9 years old.. has a phone that she leaves at home every darn day..
    She loves it.. asked if tmrw she could leave early and buy a hot chocolate on the way..
    Independence is a gift..

    • says

      It is! I think secretly the kids know that. They are happy wandering the neighbourhood. I think it’s the drudgery of the ‘same old, same old’ walk home that does them in. Life, huh?

      • says

        Hey just had a thought, thinking about the drudgery, kind of my attack area at moment, presenting work to my kids in fresh ways.
        So what about whipping up a nature bingo/tally for the girls on the way home, ‘find 3 magpies, 2 gum trees etc’ then another day, cause their crafty girls they have to bring home a dry leaf, a red leaf etc. Oh yeah but still sticking to the timeline to not get too sidetracked, just an idea

  8. says

    We lived walking/cycling distance from our last school in a capital city, and because my youngest was only in year 1 I walked with them. Now we live in a small country town and my youngest is in year 2 and my eldest in year 4 (7 &9 years old) they ride their bikes to school together. Sometimes I meet them after school, but if I’m not there , they happily ride home. They need to cross a few streets, I have spent time teaching them how to cross safely, and most of the cars are school parents so I believe (hope) they are aware of lots of kids riding and walking home. I am honestly so glad we moved here and most kids get to school independently (3 bus loads, and hundreds of bikes!). I think some city folk need to have a long hard look at why they are driving their kids the few blocks to school!

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