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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
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