Free-Range Kids

Let's Applaud the 10-Year-Old Who Walked to School Every Day for 4 Years

A kid roaming the streets on his own is like an endangered species: once common, now rare, and worth trying to bring back.


Michigan story getting a lot of attention for reasons you can probably figure out on your own is headlined: "10-year-old Grosse Pointe Park boy walked to school every day for 4 years."

The story adds: "He plans to keep the streak going."

It's a real headline, a real kid, and a real indication of all sorts of rather depressing things about America. But first off, let's be clear: Good for that ten-year-old! I grew up in the Midwest, and I know how ridiculously cold and snowy the winter months can be.

The six-sentence news story explains that the kid—Max McPartlin—just graduated from Maire Elementary School. Throughout his career as a walker, his parents frequently offered to give him rides, but he always refused. Some days, he walked with them, or with friends; on other days, he walked alone.

Next year, McPartlin will be attending a middle school even farther from his home. Nonetheless, he plans to keep on self-mobilizing, perhaps with the help of a bike.

The friend who forwarded me this story noted that McPartlin attended the same elementary school that she used to walk to every day, back when this wasn't front page news. She added that most of the students also came home for lunch, so they walked it twice—and the crossing guards were sixth graders. Everyone had to put on their snow clothes and boots themselves. Of course, she noted, this was also the era of climbing a two-story rope in gym.

Commenters on the piece were divided into two camps: yay kid and this is a story? For my part, I'm just thrilled that McPartlin's behavior is being treated like an achievement and not a crime.

Other families weren't so lucky. Recall the South Carolina mom who desperately wanted her kids to walk home from school, but the principal wouldn't allow it, even if the mom signed a waiver. Or the mom in Wilmette, Illinois (my hometown) who was investigated for letting her eight-year-old walk the dog. Or the famous Meitivs of Maryland, hounded by the state for allowing their kids, then six and ten, to walk home from the park unsupervised. Childhood independence has become so denormalized, so quickly, only about 10 percent of kids walk to school anymore.

So let's hear it for McPartlin. A kid roaming the streets on his own is like an endangered species: once common, now rare, and worth trying to bring back.