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Encouraging Independence, Age by Age

Walk or ride a bike to school

When kids are ready: 8 and up

Look for these signs: Your child follows directions closely and has experience walking or biking around your street. If you live more than a few blocks from your school, or it's located by a major traffic intersection, wait several more years.

How to start: Map out the route together so you can choose the safest crossing spots and point out possible dangers, like blind driveways and sharp turns. And review some basic precautions  -- your child should know to be especially careful at intersections (bikers should walk their bicycles, not ride across) and never to stop to speak to strangers, for instance. Make it clear that she can't switch routes unless you say it's okay first, and that she should never accept an invitation for a ride  -- even from someone she's seen around the neighborhood.

On the first few outings, it's a good idea for you to trail behind (either on foot or in your car) to make sure everything goes okay. Later you can keep slightly looser tabs, like Liz Dressel of the San Francisco Bay Area does. "This year, I let my older daughters, who are ten and eight, ride their bikes to school together," she says. "I usually take the same route when I drive their younger sisters to their classes ten or fifteen minutes later, so I just keep an eye out to make sure nobody got a flat tire or had another problem."