Teaching Road Safety
Some people walk to bring their children to their Montessori early childhood centre; others don’t. But most parents of young children will walk somewhere at some time, even if it’s just down to the corner store. And it’s important to teach your children about safety – and keep them safe – when you do.
Montessori education believes in using the environment around your child to help him or her learn the skills needed to handle the grown up world. When you go places on foot, this gives them a chance to learn about road safety that will stand them in good stead. You might think that this is obvious, but this writer once had the privilege of seeing some young children who had been living on the mission field in rural Africa when they came back to an urban setting: they didn’t have a clue about not running onto the road without looking or anything of that type.
Road safety skills are important things to learn as a part of what your Montessori educator will call “self care”.. Your preschooler is a long way away from being able to cross the road alone or to be sent off to the shops on a bicycle to pick up a bottle of milk, but what you teach today will end up with the child having the skills to do so.
Safety when walking starts when the child is still small and you have to keep him/her in a stroller for most of the trip. But don’t forget that learning starts here: your child will be watching and listening to everything you do. Naturally, you will have taken the precautions of making sure that the child wears a harness in the stroller – you might be able to teach him/her to do it up solo, depending on the style of harness closure and the ability of the child. When you are walking, you should be talking about what you see around them – this helps the child learn language and to classify the world around them. Along with this “Look at the pretty red roses in Mrs Jones’s garden,” commentary, make sure that you comment on what you’re doing when you cross the road. Every Montessori teacher knows that explanation while the child observes the process is an important part of the learning process.
Your child won’t always stay in a stroller, and before long, he or she will be walking along with you. This is an exciting stage of freedom for him or her, and for you (no more pushing!). However, this is where you have to establish a number of important safety rules. Your child doesn’t have to stay holding your hand the whole time and can be allowed some freedom to run ahead or behind. But some good rules that have literally been road-tested can include the following:
1 Only run as far ahead as the next driveway and then stop until you get the OK from Mum or Dad, as cars can come out of or go into the driveway when you don’t expect them.
2 Always stop at the side of the road and hold Mum or Dad’s hand (or the side of the stroller if you have another, younger child riding in it) while crossing the road.
3 Don’t try to touch dogs if you see them through a fence – they might look friendly, but they might try to defend their property from small intruders with a snap of the teeth.
4 Don’t get more than one lamppost ahead of or behind Mum/Dad – you have to be able to hear commands to stop.
5 Leave broken glass and dog poop alone. However, children can be encouraged to pick up litter of the plastic or paper type and put it in a plastic bag to take back home to be properly disposed of. This is a way of being a good citizen and part of your community, and reinforces the Montessori principle of being tidy and ordered.
If your children break these rules, you are allowed to tick them off in public and suspend the privilege of running free – they have to stay holding your hand for the rest of the trip. These rules also apply to small children on tricycles or little scooters. But remember to let your children go a bit further away from you if you get to a park or a safe walkway that doesn’t have driveways – it’s good for helping them learn a bit of independence and it’s good exercise for them.
When it comes to crossing roads, it’s a good idea to expose your children to a wide range of crossing styles, if you neighbourhood within walking distance allows for this. If you’re lucky, you will be able to get ordinary mid-block crossings, crossings near intersections, zebra crossings and traffic lights. Teach your children to recognise each of these and explain the safe procedure. And make sure that you model good crossing behaviour without taking stupid risks or jaywalking (did you know that in Hong Kong, if you don’t cross properly with the traffic lights, you get fined?). Your children are watching you and learning from you all the time.
Unlike other activities that your child will have a go at in their Montessori early learning centre, crossing the road is something that your child won’t be able to have a go at solo for quite a long time. Crossing the road is not self-correcting and a mistake can be fatal. However, a parent can start helping the child with process of deciding when to cross the road. This is where you stop at the kerb and ask your child if it’s safe to cross yet. If they say it’s safe and it is, you cross. If it’s safe to cross but your child doesn’t think so, you stay put (and swallow your frustration). If it’s not safe and they say it’s not safe, congratulate them on getting it right. If they say it’s safe and it isn’t, point out the hazard they’ve missed. Eventually, they will learn and be able to make the decisions correctly and safely.