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11 Ways to Teach Your Kids About Pedestrian Safety This Month

Traffic crashes involving pedestrians are far too common and our children are especially vulnerable. While we may not be able to control drivers on the road while our children are walking, we can teach our children to be as safe as possible and do their part to make our streets safe. Of course, teaching your kids anything can be difficult, so we've compiled 11 tips for pedestrian safety education that you can implement into your daily routine right now.

1. Educate Yourself First

First and foremost, you might find it difficult to teach pedestrian safety to your children if you don't exactly know what it means, yourself. Fortunately, parents don't need a credential to teach these important lessons. All it takes is five minutes to familiarize yourself with the rules of the sidewalk and you'll be an expert.

In fact, we'll list out the rules for you right here:

  • Stick to sidewalks whenever available. If a street doesn't have a sidewalk, you should walk as far to the left as possible on the side of the road facing oncoming traffic. Why? Although it goes against the flow of traffic and might seem wrong, facing oncoming traffic gives you a better visual of potential hazards ahead of you and gives you time to react if you see a car veering.
  • Look left, right, and left again. Before crossing any street or driveway, your child should stop. Look to the left to gauge oncoming traffic nearest to them, look to the right, and then look back to the left in case the traffic has changed. Continue looking back and forth until you've made it safely to the other side.
  • Walk, don't run. It is always important that your child be walking, not running, especially when crossing the street.
  • Always use crosswalks. Children should never dart out into a street or cross in between cars. Understand that drivers only expect to see pedestrians in cross walks, so darting out in the middle of the road or between parked cars can catch a driver off-guard.
  • Make eye contact with drivers. Before crossing the street, children should make eye contact with drivers. This signals to both child and driver that they are aware of each other. If you can't make eye contact with drivers, it's best to wait, because it might mean that he or she does not know you are there.
  • Avoid distractions. Kids today love their digital devices as much as we adults do. Teach them early that these devices can be dangerous distractions that should be put down while on the road. Whatever they are doing can wait. If it's an emergency, tell them to stop walking and find a safe place before taking out their phone. Bonus: teaching this particular rule will come in handy down the line when they're learning to drive. I know... too soon.
  • Be visible and alert. At all times, children should be alert for potential dangers. This is especially true when it's dark out. At these times, your kids should be wearing bright and/or reflective clothing to ensure they are visible to drivers.
  • Avoid walking home alone. Children under a certain age should never walk without an adult. However, there are benefits to encouraging even children of older ages to ensure they are not walking alone, including having someone who can call for help in an emergency.
  • Your child should know his full name, address, and phone number in case of an emergency.

2. Start Early to Develop Safe Habits Later

There's plenty of research that supports the notion that the earlier you teach a child, the better. However, it's also important to understand how your child's age can affect his or her learning. Knowing the way a child's emotions and mental capacity develops can help you understand how best to teach her about pedestrian safety.

Here's a good breakdown of a child's development:

  • Ages 2-3: Children can understand stories and can recognize and name pictures of familiar items and activities, so this is a great time to introduce traffic safety through picture books. They also begin to understand rules when they are enforced on a consistent basis.
  • Ages 3-5: Children begin to learn social skills, so introducing friends to the process of learning traffic safety can help foster cooperation. Kids this age become more adventurous, which means it's crucial that they understand basic traffic safety rules. This is also the age that kids are the most curious, begin to develop fears, learn how to follow rules, and thrive in imaginary and make believe scenarios.
  • Ages 5-7: This is perhaps the most effective age for children to learn about pedestrian safety. At this age, children have developed their own personality and learning style, and are also learning to be self-sufficient. Children at this age are cooperative, competitive, and open and eager to learn.

Missed the early boat? That's perfectly okay! Of course, it is never too late to teach a child to be a safer pedestrian. Jump start your kid's learning today--no matter how old he is!

3. Discover How Your Kid Learns

Each of us have different personality traits, interests, and habits that affect the way we learn. When deciding the best way to teach your child about traffic safety, it's important to understand how he or she learns and what materials might be the most effective.

The seven styles of learning include:

  • Auditory - learning through sounds
  • Verbal - learning through words
  • Visual - learning through images
  • Logical - learning through reason
  • Physical - learning through action
  • Social - learning in a group
  • Solitary - learning alone

These aren't necessarily boxes - your child may thrive at different degrees through multiple learning styles. Try to find one or two that stand out and stick to those methods, but don't be afraid to experiment with the other styles as well! Not sure what fits your kid best? There are plenty of online quizzes - like this one from Scholastic - that can help!

4. Make it Fun and Interactive to Get Your Child Excited to Learn

Think about your least favorite classes in school. Chances are they were all pretty boring and mundane. How much of the information in those classes did you actually retain? Children learn best when the material is fun and interactive, so it's important to incorporate that when teaching them about safe walking habits.

Ideas for fun learning materials:

  • Playing games. It's obviously no big secret that children love to play, or that you can use playtime as an opportunity to encourage learning. Apply that to traffic safety as well. Play out imaginary traffic scenarios to teach them right and wrong in a safe, fun environment.
  • Reading. There are a number of fun children's books on traffic safety you can buy. In a bookstore or online. Try Red Light, Green Light on Google Play by Anastasia Suen.
  • Send your visual learner to YouTube. Videos are one of the most effective teaching tools, especially for traffic safety. Videos let children see traffic scenarios played out in fun and entertaining ways. For instance, here's a full playlist on Pedestrian Safety for Kids.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice 'Till Its Perfect

Walk everywhere! Along the way, practice all the tips and tricks to teach your kids the rules of the sidewalk in action. Practice makes perfect, but in this case it also encourages your kids to maintain an active, healthy, and environmentally-conscious lifestyle. Plus, it's a good way to let them release some energy in a way that doesn't drive you crazy.

Where can you walk to?

  • School
  • A local park or community pool
  • A friend's house
  • Nearby store or restaurant for snacks

It's important to stick to safe routes that they know, and to try to plan a route that has sidewalks and few crossings and avoids high-speed or busy streets when possible. Having fun and rewarding destinations like a community pool gives your child incentive.

6. Engage Your Children to Measure Progress

While you're out for strolls with your children, any moment can be a teaching moment. It's important that you're not only telling your kids what to do, but encouraging them to tell you what they should be doing. This way, you can gauge whether or not they are retaining the information, and build up their confidence as well.

Some examples of engaging your kids include:

  • Before leaving, ask your children if they know the safest way to go.
  • If they begin to run, play, or pull out their phones, stop them and let them tell you why their behavior was unsafe.
  • Stop at every crosswalk and ask them what direction you should look.
  • Ask them to tell you when it's safe to cross.

7. Get Them Involved in Community Safety Events

Pedestrian safety is an initiative that's highly pursued in many communities, especially those like San Francisco, where walking and biking are common modes of transportation. Getting your children involved in a local event for pedestrian safety is a great way to help them learn. It also teaches them the importance of community involvement at an early age, and exposes them to a social learning environment as well.

How can you find pedestrian safety events?

  • Look online
  • Talk to your child's school
  • Work with a local organization, such as a church, Boys and Girls Club, or the YMCA

If you live in San Francisco, for example, Walk SF hosts a number of pedestrian safety events, including Walk & Roll to School Day, a global celebration that encourages kids to be more active and safe.

8. Talk and Listen to Make Your Child Feel Involved

It's important when teaching your child that you make sure they feel like their opinions and questions are acknowledged and addressed. Additionally, encouraging them to communicate with you can help you understand their concerns about traffic safety and whether or not they feel comfortable on the road.

So how do you encourage them to speak up?

  • Ask if they feel afraid while walking and why? Talk about ways they can feel safer.
  • Encourage them to ask questions about things they don't understand or can't remember.
  • Ask them to give you examples of unsafe behavior while walking.
  • Let them suggest places that you can walk to and talk about the potential hazards along the way. How many crosswalks? Are there sidewalks?

9. Invite Friends Along to Make Traffic Safety Cool

Humans are all social beings who enjoy doing things that other people are doing, particularly people who we respect and admire. When others are doing something, it's typically good indicator that it's trendy and cool. Kids are no different. They are more likely to be eager and willing to learn about traffic safety if their friends are learning with them. Talk to the parents of your child's friends to organize group walks during which you all teach your kids together about safety.

Ideas for engaging friends include:

  • Start a walking/biking club with friends and family
  • Invite neighbors and friends to the community park or pool for a play date
  • Have an ice cream party in which you all walk to the closest ice cream shop

10. Encourage Children to Apply Knowledge in Creative Ways

Application is one of the best ways to ensure that children are understanding and retaining traffic safety. Encourage them to get creative and have fun with it. Let them apply their knowledge about traffic safety through creative outlets such as:

  • Drawing pictures
  • Writing a song, story, or a poem
  • Performing skits
  • Making a music video!

11. Do As I Say And As I Do

Your children look up to you as a role model, so it's important that you not only tell them about pedestrian safety, but that you exhibit it as well.

  • Follow all traffic rules while walking and driving.
  • Put your phone down!
  • Pay attention to your surroundings.

If you slip and your child calls you out on it, try not to push back, make excuses, or get irritated. Instead, praise them! It means that not only are they learning to be safe, but they're also helping others - you! - to be safer, as well. You're both doing something right!

Hit the Road!

It's time to grab your kiddos, put on some comfy shoes, and hit up your local park. You have all the tools and resources you need to start teaching your kids that walking should be a safe and fun way to get around.

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