Empowering Independence: Cultivating Essential Travel Skills

Childhood is a time of wonder, exploration, and rapid development. Children undergo an incredible transformation from the moment they take their first steps to the time they enter adulthood. The ability to navigate the world around them enhances a child’s mobility and promotes cognitive development and social interaction. You play a crucial role in fostering your child’s independence and equipping them with the skills to travel confidently. Developing an independent traveler helps to lay the foundation for a lifetime of self-sufficiency.  

Consider the following skill progression as you prepare your child for independent travel. 

Age-Appropriate Journey to Independent Travel 

  • Birth to Three (0-3 years): Build spatial awareness, encourage sensory exploration, enhance social interaction, promote safety, support cognitive growth, and foster confidence at an early age.  
  • Early Childhood (3-6 years): Become familiar with pedestrian safety, identify sounds, and learn familiar routes. 
  • Elementary Years (7-12 years): Introduce basic public transportation concepts (bus or ride-share), route planning, and communication with transportation staff. 
  • Adolescence (13-18 years): Encourage a shift from you leading to your child taking the lead with transportation, teach digital navigation skills, and foster confidence in asking for assistance when needed.  
    • Initiating Calls: As your child grows, teach them how to contact ride-share services or transportation companies to request assistance or share specific requirements.  
    • Self-Advocacy: Encourage your child to confidently communicate their needs to transportation staff and advocate for themselves.  

Setting the Foundation for Independent Travel 

  • Work with an Orientation and Mobility Instructor: The role of this professional focuses on teaching individuals how to move safely and efficiently in their environment.  
  • Foster Confidence: As children learn to navigate their environment independently, they gain a sense of achievement and self-assurance that empowers them to take on new challenges.  
  • Develop Communication Skills: Teach your child how to communicate confidently with others. 
    • Model and encourage your child to request assistance or information politely.  
    • Model and encourage how to express gratitude when someone helps you. This may be even when someone is helping you locate something within a store.  
    • Determine what descriptive language is most helpful for your child to understand directions or location. Consider sounds or landmarks to help your child identify a building or person.  
    • Model and, through trial and error, determine necessary instruction when asking for directions from someone. What one person thinks is an adequate description may not be for your child.  
  • Support Cognitive Growth 
    • Challenge a child’s cognitive growth by developing problem-solving and memory-building skills. 
    • Tasks like remembering landmarks or following directions help children exercise their brains, improving memory and critical thinking skills.  
  • Support Sensory Exploration 
    • Children rely heavily on their senses to explore the world.  
    • Emphasize sensory development by encouraging children to touch, listen, and feel their surroundings.  
    • Sensory exploration enhances children’s understanding of their environment and promotes overall cognitive development. 

Safety First

  • Instill Safety Awareness: Instill safety practices such as crossing streets, identifying landmarks, and safety when traveling by ride-share, planes, and other engagements with unfamiliar people.  
    • Environmental Safety: Identify and avoid potential hazards, such as steps, sharp objects, and drop-offs. 
    • Traffic safety: 
      • Identify when you are approaching a street or a parking lot. 
      • Identify traffic audio cues such as sounds of crosswalks and the flow of traffic.  
      • Identify parts of the street crossing. 
      • Practice safe street-crossing techniques as your O&M provider instructs your child best.  
    • Emergency Preparedness:  
      • Have an escape route for an emergency at your home and a safe place to call. 
      • Have a safe word or something your family only knows if there is a true emergency to use when calling or when someone else is picking your child up.  
  • Practice Landmark Recognition: Guide and point out landmarks that are along travel routes for your child. 
  • Instill Personal Space Awareness: 
    • Understanding their surroundings allows children to move within and develop a mental map of their environment. For example, crawling, walking, and moving around obstacles are important to building a child’s spatial awareness.  
    • Help your child understand personal space and boundaries in crowded intersections. 
    • Practice walking in crowded areas and using descriptive language to help your child understand what is occurring.  
  • Rehearse Social Skills:  
    • Interact with caregivers or peers, developing social development in children.  
    • Develop collaborative tasks. 
    • Help children learn the importance of communication and cooperation. 
    • Role-play how to ask for assistance from an unfamiliar person in public. 
    • Encourage your child to identify their instincts, trust them, and avoid uncomfortable situations. Discuss options to remove themselves from these situations before they occur.  

Tips for Parents and Caregivers 

  1. Encourage Exploration: Create a safe and stimulating environment that encourages your child to explore independently.  
  1. Provide Clear Directions: Use simple, clear, and consistent directions when guiding your child through various activities and environments.  
  1. Be Patient: Allow your child to progress at their own pace and provide positive reinforcement to boost their confidence.  
  1. Use Descriptive Language: Describe the environment and objects around your child using descriptive language to enhance their understanding.  
  1. Share Your Knowledge: Tell family and friends how you’re working on independent travel with your child. Let me know the concepts and vocabulary you’re working on. They can encourage the child towards independent traveling.  

Children absorb knowledge and experiences like sponges. The independent travel skills they learn over time enable them to navigate their environment safely and promote cognitive development, social interaction, and confidence. Independent traveling is not only about physical movement but also about self-confidence gained by a child. By nurturing these abilities from a young age, parents, caregivers, and educators can empower children to embark on lifelong independence and self-sufficiency, setting the stage for a bright and confident future.