There is a place where the sidewalk ends
and before the street begins,
and there the grass grows soft and white,
and there the sun burns crimson bright,
and there the moon-bird rests from his flight
to cool in the peppermint wind.
Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
and the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
we shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow
and watch where the chalk-white arrows go
to the place where the sidewalk ends.
Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
and we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
for the children, they mark, and the children, they know,
the place where the sidewalk ends.
Shel Silverstein’s 1974 poem “Where The Sidewalk Ends” is intended to paint a magical picture of a world of peace and serenity far away from the “black and dark streets.” At the time, perhaps the end of the sidewalk was a place that was “measured and slow.” Today, however, for many parents, where the sidewalk ends can feel like a scary place. Once our children get to where the sidewalk ends – will they know where to go? What happens if they meet a stranger? What happens if there is a car coming? What if they get lost in the field? Should you follow them to where the sidewalk ends?
First, let me explain that the skills children need for “where the sidewalk ends” are called “street smarts.” With book smarts, children sit in a classroom and teachers directly instruct how to read, write, add, and subtract. With practice, children gain these skills and naturally perform complicated processes with which they used to struggle. Reading and math are skills classified as book smarts, skills that children learn in a formal classroom.
On the other hand, we often think about “street smarts” as skills that children either innately have or lack. We define someone with street smarts as someone who has common sense. He or she knows what’s going on and doesn’t walk into potentially dangerous situations. It’s hard to imagine that you can teach someone how to have common sense, but in reality, like social skills, street smarts can be picked up naturally or they can be learned through explicit instruction.
So much of parenting is figuring out when to protect our children and when to let them figure the world out on their own. If we shelter our children too much, they will never gain the necessary skills they will need for the future. Alternatively, if we give them too much freedom, they could misuse it and come to harm.
Therefore, how do we teach our children to handle themselves safely on the street? If you worry about your child’s safety, here are some great ways to help them gain street smarts:
Plan a route. If your child is old enough to walk on the street alone, help him figure out the best route to and from the places he frequents. Then, test-run the route with him several times. In addition, explain to him that he should not take short cuts through alleyways or parking lots and that he should stay in heavily populated areas.
Designate “safe spots:” Once your child learns his route, pick out different homes that the two of you identify as “safe.” Safe spots include: fire stations, police stations, grandparents’ or friends’ houses, the library, and familiar stores and restaurants.
Two heads are better than one. Encourage your child to walk in groups with his friends. Predators are more likely to prey on children who are walking alone, whereas there is power in numbers when there are multiple children traveling together.
Stay away from strangers’ cars. When walking on the street, teach your child to walk on the sidewalk against traffic. This way, a car cannot pull up from behind and take the child unawares. Also, make sure that you teach your child never to go into a stranger’s car, regardless of what the person is offering: a ride, candy, or a toy.
No need for derech eretz. Without scaring your child, let him know that he need not be polite to people if he feels threatened. Sometimes, we teach our child to be so obedient, that they do not stick up for themselves if they are imperiled. Let your child know that there are occasions when it is okay to scream, “No!”
Indicate “safe” adults: Just as there are safe spots while walking home, teach your child about safe people on the street. While your child should avoid speaking to strangers, there are some extenuating circumstances when speaking to strangers is necessary. Explain that he should look for a woman with children or a police officer if he is in need of assistance. Understanding that there are adults he may speak to will not only make life less scary, but will also give him the skills to select wisely if he must ask a question of a stranger.
As parents, we often think about teaching our children the ABCs, but we don’t always realize how important it is to teach them how to function in their “real” world as well. With a little help, your child can learn what to do when “the sidewalk ends” and gain the essential skill of street smarts.
About the Author: An acclaimed educator and social skills specialist, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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