Freedom of a Free-Range Kid

Safe Routes to School Help Kids Find Independence

Holly Gordon
November 16, 2023 / 5 mins read

In today's fast-paced, technology-driven world, being a "free-range kid" may sound like a relic of the past. However, the concept of allowing children to walk to school, ride their bikes safely, and embrace their independence is making a resurgence. Safe Routes to School programs, with city support, are gaining momentum, encouraging a new generation of children to experience the joy of being a free-range kid.

As we reminisce about our own childhoods, many of us can recall the thrill of walking to school or pedaling our bikes down the neighborhood streets. These were moments of independence, adventure, and exploration, which are integral to a child's development. The desire for independence is innate, and by allowing kids to venture out on their own, we empower them to learn, grow, and make their own choices.

Safe Routes to School initiatives aim to revive this spirit of independence. They encourage parents and communities to create environments where children can walk or bike to school safely, fostering a sense of responsibility and self-reliance. This movement isn't about reckless abandonment but rather about providing the necessary tools and safety measures for kids to thrive.

One of the most compelling reasons for encouraging children to walk or bike to school is the positive impact on their health. In an era when childhood obesity rates are on the rise, it's crucial to promote physical activity as part of a daily routine. Walking or biking to school provides an opportunity for regular exercise, reducing the risk of obesity and related health issues.

Safe Routes to School initiatives also have the potential to reduce the reliance on motorized transportation, helping to decrease pollution and traffic congestion around schools. This not only improves air quality but also promotes a healthier environment for everyone.

Safety is, understandably, a primary concern for parents when considering allowing their children to walk or bike to school. Safe Routes to School programs address this concern by implementing various safety measures. These may include:

Safe Routes to School Resolutions adopted by the City Commission, which is a written document, stating the support of these efforts in the community.

  • Sidewalks and Crosswalks: Creating safe walking paths and crosswalks to ensure children can navigate their routes without the risk of traffic accidents.
  • Traffic Calming Measures: Implementing traffic calming measures such as speed bumps and reduced speed limits to make the roads around schools safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Education and Awareness: Educating both children and drivers about road safety and the importance of adhering to traffic laws.
  • Adult Supervision: Encouraging parents and community volunteers to help supervise the routes and ensure children's safety.

Safe Routes to School initiatives can also foster a sense of community. When children walk or bike to school, they can interact with their neighbors and classmates. This can lead to stronger connections within the community, as children and parents build relationships during these daily journeys.

When children take responsibility for their daily journey to school, they learn valuable life skills. They become aware of the importance of punctuality and time management, as they need to plan their routes and schedules accordingly. Furthermore, they learn to be accountable for their actions on the road, which instills a sense of responsibility that can benefit them throughout their lives.

From a parent's standpoint, allowing your child to be a free-range kid might be a daunting prospect. The concerns about safety and the desire to protect your child are perfectly natural. However, there are ways to make this transition smoother:

  • Start Gradually: Begin by accompanying your child on their route and teaching them about road safety. Gradually allow them to walk or bike alone as they become more confident.
  • Teach Responsibility: Educate your child about the rules of the road and the importance of following them. Reinforce their understanding of safe practices.
  • Stay Informed: Stay informed about the Safe Routes to School program in your community. Participate in parent meetings, and volunteer opportunities, and ensure you are aware of any safety updates or changes in the routes.
  • Establish Communication: Set up a communication plan so that you can stay in touch with your child while they are on their way to and from school.

The revival of the free-range kid spirit through Safe Routes to School programs offers children the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of independence, physical activity, and community engagement while enhancing safety and promoting responsibility. By working together as a community, parents, educators, and local governments can help children experience the joy of walking or biking to school safely. The result is healthier, happier children and stronger, more closely-knit communities.

Community SRTS walking audits using the AARP Walking Audit Toolkit, are happening across Pottawatomie County. To get involved and for more information, please email Holly Gordon at