5 Tips for Teaching Kids to Walk and Navigate Their Neighborhoods

5 Tips for Teaching Kids to Walk and Navigate Their Neighborhoods

One mom equips her independent tween with the skills to safely navigate her neighborhood.

By: Amy Oztan

My daughter is 10 years old and has always been very independent. She walked confidently into day care when she was 2, begged to go to sleepaway camp when she was 6 (we let her go at 7), and wanted to walk to school alone at 9. This was not a decision we took lightly, and we spent all of last fall and winter gearing up for this new milestone. We practiced crossing streets, talked about what to do if sidewalks were blocked, and had a lot of talks about how distracted she sometimes gets.

According to this helpful guide for teaching kids to walk alone from Safe Routes, we were just about on track with this new form of independence. Their guide says that by 10, children “are usually ready for a mix of independence and supervision.” Fiona started walking home from school a few months before her 10th birthday and has handled it beautifully so far.

But, of course, she wants to push the envelope a little more. Right now, her walking world is limited to school, the playground, and some local stores. She wants to go farther. And I want to let her.

The problem is that she has a terrible sense of direction. She gets it from me. I grew up long before we were all carrying amazing GPS units in our pockets. I got around by getting lost a lot and asking directions if I had no idea where I was, especially on my bike.

Here are the skills I’m teaching her in order to help her get around our neighborhood safely and with confidence.

1. Know the street names. Sometimes when we’re walking together I quiz my daughter on which streets are coming up next. She’s pretty good at knowing where to turn based on landmarks, but she needs to know the names of the streets in order to follow directions from someone else.

2. Visualize the neighborhood. I’m a visual learner. If I write something down, I’m much more likely to be able to recall it later. I want Fiona to be able to make a map, from memory, for ten blocks in every direction from our house. She’s nowhere near able to do this yet, but she understands that the bigger the map she can draw, the farther she’ll be allowed to go.


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3. Use a smartphone map. Fiona will be getting a smartphone soon, and one of the first things she needs to know is how to use the mapping program. The ability to be able to press a button and find your exact location anywhere in the world is fantastic but not if you don’t know how to use it.

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4. Know whom to ask for directions. First, I’ve told Fiona to look for a parent with kids around her age -- I've always taught her to seek out other parents in public places if she needs help. An employee at a well-trafficked store is also a good option since that person will probably know the neighborhood well. Same for police officers and crossing guards -- they know the areas they're in.

5. Know how to ask for directions. Once she finds an appropriate person to ask for directions, she should be matter-of-fact and careful not to say, “I need help” or “I’m lost.” I’ve advised her to say something simple and to the point, like, “Which way is Delaware Avenue?” If she’s confident, the adults won’t tend to worry, and they’ll send her off on the right track.

Independence is a gradual thing. Seeing how Fiona mastered walking to school and other nearby places, I’m confident that her drive for independence will help her to master this too.

What tips do you give your kids to help them be more independent?

Amy Oztan is the founder of Selfish Mom. She's a slow runner and a fast eater. When she's not on her laptop, she loves watching TV, singing, reading, gardening, and baking. Amy lives in Brooklyn with her husband, two kids, and cat.

Image ©iStock.com/stanley45

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