Perhaps the biggest and most immediate change that accompanies your child’s graduation from kindergarten to elementary school in Japan is his/her newfound independence.
No longer assumed to require around-the-clock supervision, their first step out alone will likely be the walk to school and home again. Although most kids are delighted by this sudden freedom, for most parents, and some children, it will take some time to come to terms with it.
When most soon-to-be first-year elementary school kids imagine walking to school by themselves they probably picture the sun shining, birds singing, friendly neighbors waving to them and many new friends and happy experiences along the way. Cautious children, however, may share the image that most parents see: a cold and cloudy day with speeding cars just around the corner and adults with dark thoughts lurking in wait. The real picture will usually be closer to the first image, but it’s the eternal possibility of an exception to the norm that makes parents worry. So what are parents to do? First, understand that it is rare for a child to meet with foul play on the way to and from school—millions of children commute safely every school day. Second, do what you can to prevent your child from meeting with danger. Let’s look at how to do that.
Practice makes confidence
Before the new school year starts in early April, walk the route to and from school with your child. As you do so, advise your child on how to safely cross roads and intersections and to navigate footpaths that may be heavily used by bicycles. If possible, walk the route together at the time that your child will walk it—in order to arrive at school by 8:15 a.m.—and ideally do it on a school day. That way both of you will get an idea of how much road and people traffic there is then and also whether there will be other students walking nearby or not. As you walk, take note of stores and other public buildings that your child could flee to in case of an emergency, checking too whether they would be open around 8 a.m.
Some of these places will include shops and homes marked with the “kodomo 110-ban” (kodomo hyaku-tou-ban) sign. Children who seek refuge at such premises will be protected there until police arrive. Also, teaching your child to say hello to local shopkeepers and residents that she passes daily near your home and on the way to school will help train their eyes to look out for her, as well as help her to feel like part of her local community.
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