Is this normal? Toddler day care edition
July 28, 2014 9:22 PM   Subscribe

Mini-me is starting day care at a place that takes the toddlers to a local park every day. I'm cool with this (wearing him out FTW!) but they apparently have the class walk there — about six blocks through a dense urban area. I was a little surprised by this practice for such little kids (18-36 months). Husband is really concerned about the whole thing and I'm not sure what to think. Is this actually a totally reasonable thing for toddlers to do in a group care environment?

FWIW, the ratio of adults to kids is 1:4 and the class is 6-8 kids. They are not restrained but instead hold on to a rope with little grips on it. My kid is 17 months and a good walker but has no fear and is deeply ADD, so he literally runs off after birds ALL THE TIME. So our fear is that without constant supervision he will end up wandering right into the street. (Also, obeying verbal commands? Not so much.)
posted by annekate to Grab Bag (42 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Having been in charge of 18-month-old runners before: they would not be walking through a 'dense urban area without holding my hand, being carried, or being in a stroller. 'Holding on to little grips' is not good enough, when they can voluntarily let go and be in traffic within seconds.

I think you are right to be concerned.
posted by Salamander at 9:35 PM on July 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not a parent, but I used to see day cares do this in downtown SF. They are highly visible and given wide berth by pedestrians and cars alike, and always seemed like quite the safety parade.
posted by samthemander at 9:35 PM on July 28, 2014 [27 favorites]

Lots of children behave differently in the care environment. Kids that a prone to a wander when they're with mom and dad, may well hold the rope if their peers do so. Not all kids, but many kids are more likely to follow directions at day care. (YMMV - one of my nieces is totally the happiest, most charming little disobedient stinker in daycare. When the class goes on trips she does not get to go along.)

Are you sure they don't carry the littlest ones? 3 years old? Certainly. At 18 months? I'm not seeing that happen easily. Round trip, you're talking about over a mile of walking including crossing streets.
posted by 26.2 at 9:38 PM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you talked to any of the other parents at the day care? Normally I'd say trust your instincts as a parent. As the parent of a toddler myself, I'd be concerned with letting an 18-month old walk for six blocks. But if this is something they do every day (and have been doing for awhile without incident) it may be that they have all their bases covered, even if you're unsure about it. Maybe there's something you're missing. Like 26.2 said, maybe they have alternate transportation for the littlest ones?
posted by smoq at 9:43 PM on July 28, 2014

I too see this constantly in my urban bay area neighborhood (there are two schools on either side of my building) and think it's no big deal. All the kids hold a rope and there's usually 3 adults, 2 at either ends of the line and one other who waits in the intersections. All the pedestrians and cars come to a crawl when one of these "safety trains" comes through. Never seen any kids make a run for it and everyone's watching them like a hawk anyways.
posted by bradbane at 9:43 PM on July 28, 2014 [11 favorites]

Our day care program uses large strollers for the 12 months-2 year crowd, with older kids in that age bracket occasionally on a walk rope. From 2 years up, walk ropes are the norm. And they are in an urban environment for sure. Six blocks is a short walk for them.

A 1:4 ratio is good. If the kids are able to make the walk, it's good for them. Even my youngest, who is one of the most defiant, independent little buggers you will ever meet, will hold the walk rope when they're out, because his peers are doing it. That's a pretty standard set up. Unless you have other safety concerns about the program (and if you do, you should look for another program), I would not be sweating this.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 9:44 PM on July 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

Thanks for the answers. Wonder if this is a Bay Area thing. The distance is actually not too far and the area is mostly blue collar by day with not much traffic, so it's not quite as whiz-bang urban as it could be.

I may tag along the first day or two and see how he takes it. The "ducklings in a row" effect may well surprise me. I would generally be happy for him to get the exercise if it's safe.
posted by annekate at 9:55 PM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think it's pretty normal, but I would mention that you have a dasher to the teachers, and likely they will find a special place for him on the safety train. They probably would have an eye out on him until they know him anyway. I have two kids, one of whom was prone to school events he kind of had his own staff member on him-duty.

On preview: If you are there, don't expect him to adhere to the rules the same way. He will probably put effort into engaging you, and the fastest way would be to avoid doing the same as the other kids.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:58 PM on July 28, 2014 [20 favorites]

They also go past my house. Certain kids have an adult by the hand, I assume those are the runners.
posted by fshgrl at 10:00 PM on July 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you go to observe, don't let him see you. As mentioned by warriorqueen, he won't behave the same way if you're there so you won't know the facts.
posted by taff at 10:01 PM on July 28, 2014 [24 favorites]

I'd totally check it out two ways: One day, go with them. Another, don't tell anyone - just observe them from afar. Do they seem attentive? Forget your kid for a second - Do the care givers behave differently? When you mention that you have a dasher, do they keep an eye on him, put him at the front of the line by a care giver, or hold his hand?

In short, their are shepherds for these six blocks. How attentive are they to their flock, and how to do they respond when one of their little lambs tries to wander off/makes a run for the nearest awesome thing? How are they coming, at the park, and going?

That might give you the answers you and your husband want.
posted by anitanita at 10:04 PM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am not a parent and not a daycare worker, but have seen this system happening in downtown Portland many times. At first, it gave me pause . . . all those little people out in the big world. Then it gave me joy - all those little people out in the world!

The caretakers seemed to have everything under control. And the kids seemed to be loving the adventure :)
posted by ainsley at 10:05 PM on July 28, 2014 [20 favorites]

I see this at my job in downtown Portland regularly. Your child's behavior is probably not out of the norm of what they've dealt with. I think it's okay to trust and let go on this - and I agree that your presence would alter your child's behavior. If you are concerned, why not watch from afar before your child starts!
posted by bluedaisy at 10:18 PM on July 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Parent here of a 3 year old in Preschool...

Holy Hannah! At 17 months? NOPE.

I'd like to add here that I live in an urban part of LA, I'm from NYC, and a daycare nearby walks their kids to the local park daily....

Everyone under 3 has a stroller, usually the tots are loaded en masse into double strollers to and from the park.

I would not do this. I'm a city girl, streets be crazy, I would NOT feel comfy with this setup at 17 months.

This doesn't sound like a responsible outfit, frankly. My child uses the rope thing to and from his classroom and the playground at his school along a non-busy street. Along with the teachers on that short walk, there is also a security guard paid for by the school supervising the sidewalk and traffic. I consider this very safe. What you describe? Not so much. Sorry.
posted by jbenben at 10:45 PM on July 28, 2014

Lots of children behave differently in the care environment. Kids that prone to a wander when they're with mom and dad, may well hold the rope if their peers do so.

As a former daycare worker, I am simply quoting this for truth.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:52 PM on July 28, 2014 [10 favorites]

For what it's worth, here in Australia - a much much more heavily regulated environment than the us with regards to childcare - this would never, ever, ever be allowed to happen for health and safety reasons. Even with children significantly older, waivers would need to be signed etc .

I am a former childcare worker of five years (though not this young). Perhaps I have been mollycoddled by our stringent regulatory environment, but I would not be comfortable with what you describe, as both a parent, and a career.
posted by smoke at 1:36 AM on July 29, 2014

I work in childcare, 17 months seems a little young to me - but not by much - but I would think they would know what they are doing in this regard. Tell them your concerns and ask what they do about kids who are apt to run off. See how you feel after that discussion.

Little kid peer pressure is a strong thing and it's just a fact that if you come along on a field trip that your child will not act like they might possibly act as part of the group.

Do what you feel comfortable with, but I bet they know what they are doing.
posted by Slimemonster at 1:41 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with an above comment, watch them take another group of kids out and see how it goes.
posted by Slimemonster at 1:43 AM on July 29, 2014

I've seen this in NYC in Battery Park countless times. I think that the ratio of kids to adults is pretty good for the littlest kids so there's a lot of supervision. Perhaps finding out the numbers would put you more at ease.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:09 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I see it all the time here in very urban Somerville, MA. In fact, I see it so often that I have idly wondered whether the kids are ever inside the day care at all.

They look like they're having a blast. Some day cares use wagons for the younger kids but most put the kids on the ropes and provide at least 4/5 caretakers for every excursion.

I have a baby now and, while she is obviously not mobile yet and won't be in day care for another year, I would be very comfortable with that set up.
posted by lydhre at 3:10 AM on July 29, 2014

I think it's kinda crazy under 3yo. I have a runner, though. Even at 3 I've toured places that don't do it until the kids are more like 3 and 3 months.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:29 AM on July 29, 2014

Data point from across the ocean: continental Europe, the local daycares do this all the time. The younger kids or not-so-good-walkers are loaded onto special strollers/wagons, everyone else is holding the rope. The adults are watching them like hawks and I haven't seen any incidents so far. I wouldn't have any qualms about mini-me going with them.
posted by gakiko at 3:37 AM on July 29, 2014

It's a NYC thing as well. My daughter's daycare used to do the same thing.
posted by gaspode at 4:49 AM on July 29, 2014

Totally normal in Boston and suburbs.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:00 AM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

The rope thing is fairly common. The 17 months thing is a little bananas to me, though. I would ask them how they transition the kids to walking on the rope, how long it takes, and what they do in the meantime. In my experience, there's a lead-up to actually using it outside where they use the rope inside first.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:01 AM on July 29, 2014

See it in Chicago. There is this little wheelchair ramp that they go up and down and the kids have a blast. They seem very watchful. One person in the front walking backwards one person in the back watching the end and one person in the middle closest to the outside sidewalk to catch any wayward kids.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:09 AM on July 29, 2014

My son is not 18 months. He is 13 months even when he is older I would not TRUST a daycare to walk them to a park. I would only feel safe if it was 2 kids to a person. if not they would not get my business.
posted by majortom1981 at 5:47 AM on July 29, 2014

As someone else mentioned there are laws against this sort of thing in many other countries. I would never risk it personally, even if I didn't have a runner and even if my child were older. There must be a better solution. Good luck.
posted by claptrap at 6:13 AM on July 29, 2014

I am an administrator at a daycare. There is one toddler class in particular that is FULL of runners. For whatever reason, this one class got all the kids who just dash at the first moment of opportunity. I'm taking closed hallways here, though, not sidewalks.

The lead teacher got them a walk rope. She wasn't sure it was going to work and frankly, the rest of us weren't sure, either. We were shocked the first time we saw the, on that rope. All the former runners were just holding on to their grips and walking so calmly and listening to the teachers. It was amazing. It's been several. Oaths now and the walk rope still works like a charm.

I would be okay with what you describe. Your state may require permission forms for this routine field trip; mine does. The ratio is fantastic and it sounds like the center has experience doing this. Get a look at the setup from a bit of a distance and see what you think then.
posted by cooker girl at 6:26 AM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

If this were my kid's daycare, I would think it was a great idea, a chance to get some exercise while learning how to safely walk down the street. It is true that kids act much differently around their teachers--mine is 10x more compliant at school; something about doing things as a group really makes him want to behave. That said, we have been with the same teachers since he was 4 months old, and I trust them completely. I can understand being nervous with a new center, though. I'm inclined to think that they know what they're doing, they do this all the time right? I would agree with others that you should voice your concerns with the teachers and gauge their responses. Maybe even watch this procession from afar and see how it goes. My guess is that it is fine.

And, sorry if you were being facetious, but your 17-month-old child is not ADD. He is 17 months old. Please don't pathologize behavior that is completely developmentally appropriate.
posted by Jemstar at 6:33 AM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

I see it frequently in downtown Seattle. It's not just a US thing either: I saw it when I lived in urban Stockholm, including in the winter when it is snowing and dark (tiny toddlers barely moving down the street in their puffy, starfish-shaped snowsuits are beyond adorable).
posted by halogen at 6:33 AM on July 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

I saw this when I was in Boston, but the kids hanging onto the rope (with brightly colored grippy handles) were probably 2-3, maybe 3-4. There were three adults with the kids, and the adults were holding children's hands as well. It actually was very nice-looking, and those kids were alarmingly well-behaved as I walked past them, especially considering we were near Boston Common, which is a notoriously high-traffic area.
posted by PearlRose at 6:33 AM on July 29, 2014

It depends on the center and the group of kids. I work with four year olds, but when I worked with threes, we would do buggy rides and walks without a rope. I think rope walks are reasonable for a young toddler group, but absolutely ask how they handle runners. Make sure you're comfortable with how they answer.
posted by SobaFett at 6:51 AM on July 29, 2014

I live not far away from a big day care and see this all the time. They are carefully herded along on the ropes, and I thought the risk/reward going on there was heavily tilted in favour of reward; I would be disappointed in a day care that did not get the kids out and about in the community, at least where there was an opportunity to take them to a place they would like that was in walking distance. (Here they take them to a library storytime, about three or four blocks away, with a rural highway between day care and library. We went to the same storytime and I never saw one of the tots try to book it; they all took the rope quite seriously.)
posted by kmennie at 7:00 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also see this in the Boston area all the time. I also take my kids out for walks all the time from earlier that this age. Both of my boys knew to behave with me, would hold my hand, or, once they started riding bikes around 18months, to stop when I said stop (though this was a training process), but both would also bolt on my MIL when she watched them (she had to leash them to take them on walks). Kids are surprisingly different with different people and, if the teachers feel comfortable doing this, then I would believe them when they say it is ok. I can't imagine a teacher doing this with kids that bolted all the time, it would be too harrowing as a teacher, especially because they have more to watch. They wouldn't do it if they didn't feel the kids were under control. That said, it never hurts to forewarn them that your kid likes to run off.
posted by katers890 at 7:19 AM on July 29, 2014

This is very common where I live, in a city in Switzerland. You see classes of small children, hands on ropes, teachers at front, middle and rear. The kids wear little reflective vests as well, and ride public transport and walk the city like pros.

As a parent, I would probably be worried too. As a teacher, I think the experiences they get from exploring their wider world are invaluable and that this is a good thing. They learn about more than the four walls of their centre (and for some children whose parents don't go places, that's super important), and they have common experiences to share with each other and use as a basis for language learning.

The centre should have well documented safety and security guidelines that all staff must adhere to for various situations, including predicting scenarios and how to respond to them (e.g. a runaway child, or an accident). Ask to see their guidelines/rules for excursions. Ask them how many times they have had to deal with emergencies, and how they have dealt with them. Hopefully the answers they give you are reassuring -- or at least help you with the decision.
posted by tracicle at 7:54 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Warn the teachers that your child tends to run, and ask how they handle new kids and runners. Tell them you're nervous and ask them to put him close to a teacher (but I imagine they already would with a new kid/runner)

But I suspect it will be just fine. My son attends a home daycare with 8 kids ages 0-4, and they go to the park every day. The older kids hold hands in pairs, and the caregiver holds the hands of the younger toddlers. I've seen them from a distance - they're quite orderly. Other daycares I've seen out and about carry handheld stop signs for crossing streets.

But assuming you give the teachers a heads up, I sincerely doubt your son will be the worst behaved child they've ever seen; and the group aspect gives him a chance to learn these very important safety rules in an environment where he's likely to succeed.
posted by telepanda at 8:19 AM on July 29, 2014

I also see this all the time in downtown Portland. The tiniest kids are sometimes in these 6 seat strollers, but all the decent walkers are doing the rope thing. I'm always surprised at how focused & well behaved they are. (I'm a parent in case it matters.)
posted by peep at 9:57 AM on July 29, 2014

I see this in my neighborhood in Oakland occasionally. They're on a rope and seem pretty stoked.
posted by waitangi at 10:24 AM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Definitely this is a thing in the NYC area. Though yeah, 17 months old seems a bit young for it; sometimes it's hard to tell ages, but I think even a 17 month old might still be carted around in a big multikid stroller. Unfortunately I don't quite recall if my own children at 17 months were in the stroller or were already in the rope/hand-in-hand walk, but they were almost definitely doing that at 2 years.

Also, seconding anitanita's advice. Perhaps you already know this, but it's surprising how differently little children behave when away from their parents. A few times I had the opportunity to watch my kids from afar when they were on their walks; with us, they could be dashers, but with the teachers, they were so perfectly well-behaved!
posted by odin53 at 12:20 PM on July 29, 2014

Thanks everyone for the feedback! Seems like this is a more-or-less normal practice though some parents are understandably uncomfortable with it. I've informed the teachers that he's a runner and apparently their practice with those kids is to have an adult holding them by the hand at all times. They can also carry the littlest ones if real problems arise.

I walked with them today holding my son's hand one direction and then kept out of sight going the other direction. He had to be held a couple times but did okay. I can definitely see the benefit of doing this every day though, the more experienced kids were very confident and seemed to have a lot of fun with it.
posted by annekate at 12:24 PM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

Child behavior professional here - the rope with the little handles is great for runners. Kids don't run because they are trying to get away or "do what they want" instead of staying with the group. They run because their little brains don't hold on to the idea that they are supposed to stay with the group. They just forget and then . . .. oh! shiny thing ! . . .

Holding onto the rope is a reminder that they are supposed to stay with group and they look around and they see all their little friends holding the rope and so they keep holding the rope.
posted by dchrssyr at 5:33 PM on July 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

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