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Would You Let Your Kindergartner Bike to School?

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Kate Tuttle:Free-range kids, or safety first? That's the conflict being played out in one English family's legal dispute with their children's school. The couple, Oliver and Gillian Schonrock, are in favor of their two kids, an 8-year-old girl and 5-year-old boy, riding their bikes to school each day on their own. The trip, which the parents have mapped out on back roads, is around one mile each way; per English law, the children are allowed to ride on the sidewalks, not the road.

kid biking

According to the U.K.'s Daily Mail, the kids' father says he "wanted to recreate the simple freedom" he enjoyed during his own childhood. "These days, children lead such regimented lives," he said. "They can do nothing unless it's planned. We are trying to let them enjoy their lives and teach them a little bit about the risks of life."

The children's school, a private institution in southeast London, disagrees. Its headmaster has threatened to report the family to social services if the parents persist in allowing the kids to bike to school.

Meanwhile, London's mayor, Boris Johnson, has come down squarely on the side of the Schonrocks, lambasting the "age of air-bagged, mollycoddled, infantilised over-regulation" that would object to parents' rights to make such choices for their own children. His column contains a lot that makes sense to me -- it lauds the parents, for instance, for having a "vision of urban life" that is "profoundly attractive" and cites the objective statistics about how safe London truly is. Johnson also argues that by getting their kids out into the streets, such families actually make the city a safer, healthier, more community-oriented space -- a position with which I completely agree. And he adds that biking (or walking) to school is clearly a great trend in an era when so many of our kids are sedentary and overweight.

That said, there are plenty of parents and others who think the Schonrocks are nuts, that their idealistic vision of a world in which kids can bike freely around the City is profoundly unrealistic -- and potentially dangerous. The nearly 1,000 comments that were received after the Daily Mail article was posted online show a split between those who worry about the kids and those who feel that the worriers are overreacting paranoid losers. Maybe it all just comes down to individual parenting styles. But when institutions get involved -- whether they be private schools or government entities -- it can be hard not to sympathize with parents whose intentions are clearly good.

When I was the age of the Schonrocks' younger child, I began walking to school -- nearly a mile away -- as part of a group of kids (no parents involved). The safety-in-numbers we felt was very real, and so was the exhilaration of being free of adult supervision for 20 minutes a day. At the same time, I have the typical mother's worry: What if the 5-year-old and the 8-year-old got separated?

I'm cautiously on the side of the parents here (who clearly know their children better than any stranger would). But I'm very curious to hear what momlogic readers think. Who's in the right here: the parents, or the school? What would you do?

next: Why I Like It When Strangers Help My Child with Special Needs
25 comments so far | Post a comment now
Ashlie- Mommycosm July 8, 2010, 1:15 PM

Wow. While I try to be a non-hovering parent…I just couldn’t let my 5 year old ride his bike sans adult to school. Couldn’t do it. The school bus is independent enough for me - thankyouverymuch.

Lindsay  July 8, 2010, 1:18 PM

Until the 5 -year-old was a little older, I would simply bike to the school along with them. I lived two blocks from my elementary school when I was a child, and until a certain age or unless I was in a large group, my grandmother walked along beside me to school. When I was older I walked or biked alone. Of course that was over twenty years ago and times have changed, but I still side mostly with the parents in this situation.

renee July 8, 2010, 2:22 PM

we walked to school everyday from k to 6th grade,1 mile both ways,yes in group(3kids) and it was fun.yes it was the 7o/80s but we did it and omg, survived.people think riding a bike to school is bad,when was the last time you were on a bus?IT IS A SCAREY MEAN PLACE FOR KIDS. the hear and learn things you dont want them to til they are older. kids are often bullied or beat up,bus drivers are powerless.honestly the kids are probably safer riding bikes together.not to mention helping the environment,their waist lines and learning to be responsible.

XXXX July 8, 2010, 3:14 PM

The same as free range chickens?

Charlotte July 8, 2010, 4:12 PM

I am so on the parents side here I’m about to fall off the edge. Sure, I can see that the school doesn’t want something to happen to them, and maybe doesn’t want blame to fall on them should something happen to the children (either way it shouldn’t), but it’s not their decision and it’s not dangerous for the kids. It teaches them to be responsible, and lets them have some fun. Yes, there are unfortunate things in the world that can happen. But those things aren’t going to happen to every child who is allowed to have a little freedom, and I don’t feel that the .000001% chance or lower of something bad maybe happening being a big enough reason to keep your child from having a childhood.

Jennifer July 8, 2010, 7:30 PM

Having lived in England and experienced the traffic (including being clipped by a car because I didn’t cross the street quickly enough), I agree with the school. Roads are much more congested now than they were even a few decades ago. The roads are not as broad as here in the states, and “sidewalks”, which people often drive up onto to park, are usually right next to the road, not separated by a grassy area. I wouldn’t be comfortable with a 5-year-old riding to school, but an older child (say, eleven or twelve) would probably be ok.

Kids' Bikes July 9, 2010, 7:35 AM

The Scratch lets you perfect your new sick moves in the skate park and on the dirt jumps before you take them into the forest. Kids’ Bikes

Anonymous July 10, 2010, 11:32 AM

Times HAVEN’T changed. In the UK at least, the number of children being snatched/going missing each year is consistent with what it was ten, twenty, thirty years ago. What’s changed is that we, as in us adults, have twenty-four hour access to news that reaches us from every country in the world. I too was walking by myself to school around the age of five or so. It was close to my home, I had no roads to cross, and pretty much every other child who attended that school arrived and went home by themselves or with siblings/friends too.

As for cycling, I agree with Linday. If roads are a concern, I’d cycle along with them.

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