The Crossing the Road Game

(Created by David A. Cooper 2010)

Despite the name, this is no mere game: it is a serious system for training children in how to cross roads safely. It is fully compatible with the old Green Cross Code, but it takes things much further, giving parents a way to gauge exactly how competent their child is so that they can set appropriate boundaries according to that child's individual level of competence. Equally importantly, the game can be used whenever two or more people want to co-ordinate their crossing of a busy road, regardless of their age: it helps to eliminate those nasty moments where one person decides to try to cross while the other decides to hold back, a situation where the action of one can pressure the other into a rushed change of mind, leading to potentially fatal results.
indentThe key to the game is the co-ordination system achieved through the use of a limited set of special words. These words are: watch, watching, ready, yes, wait, waiting, now (the standard words used for crossing); back, middle and hurry (used only if the situation has been misjudged or if it has changed due to the approach of a speeding car). Other words are introduced in step 9.

Step 1

I will assume that you are a parent teaching your child to cross the road, and for the sake of grammatical simplicity I have decided that your child is a boy. You will initially play the game on an imaginary road which may either be inside or in a garden/park. You need to mark out the edges of the road in some way, and your child should be told that the floor or ground between the lines is the road, while the strips of floor or ground beyond the lines are pavements (sidewalks).
indentYou will start the game by saying watch and your child must say watching in return. That switches you both into road-crossing mode and you don't talk about anything else from this point on. The two of you must now watch the road from the pavement to see when it is safe to cross. You should comment on some imaginary vehicles as they go past. At some point you will declare that there are no cars coming, and then say the word ready in a questioning tone of voice, making sure that he understands this to mean, "Are you ready to cross the road?" He needs to be taught to say yes to this. Once he has done so, you must say now as the signal for the two of you to cross the road together, and then of course you will cross it. This should be repeated a few times so that he gets the hang of it.

[A series of pictures could be added here to illustrate this: the "watch" and "watching" phase in the first picture; "wait while that car goes past" in the second (the car might be depicted as a cat); "ready", "yes" and "now" in the third, each speech bubble lower than the previous one; and two people crossing the road in the fourth picture.]

Step 2

A new element is added to the game: your child can now say wait instead of yes if he sees some imaginary traffic approaching. Whenever he soes this, you will say waiting to confirm that you are not crossing, and you will then have to restart the game, though there is probably no need to repeat the watch - watching phase as you're already switched into game mode. You are also allowed to say wait if you see some imaginary traffic appear after your child has said yes: your child must never start crossing the road on such occasions, but should say waiting. Practise this until he understands it well.

[Pictures could show "watch" and "watching" in frame one; "ready", "wait", "waiting" in frame 2; "I said wait because there's a bus coming" in frame 3 (the imaginary bus perhaps depicted as a dog); and "ready", "yes", "now" in frame 4.]

Step 3

You can now move to a real road, though you will obviously choose one that's fairly quiet and you ought to hold hands at this stage. Because it is a real road, you are no longer allowed to see imaginary traffic: the game is becoming more real. Don't even think about taking another child along with you: the game will not work with more than two people at this stage and all your concentration should be going into the child you are teaching. You should only say ready when it actually is safe to cross. Your child should say yes in reply (assuming that he is actually ready and on task), and then you should say now before the two of you cross the road, assuming it is still safe by this point. Repeat this a number of times, perhaps in the course of going for a walk.

[Illustrations as for step 1, but with a picture of a car replacing the cat.]

Step 4

You will now explain to your child that you are going to test him on occasions by saying ready when it is not safe to cross: he must try to recognise when it is unsafe and should say wait instead of yes in reply (and then you will say waiting): this is an important stage of the game, giving your child the chance to prove that he can judge situations well. He should be praised strongly whenever he gets it right, and warned clearly (but gently) when he gets it wrong. When he does get it wrong, you will obviously say wait and you must be ready to hold him back just in case he tries to step onto the road. You must then explain to him why it was too dangerous to cross.

[Illustrations as for step 2, but with a picture of a bus replacing the dog.]

Step 5

The game will now be played the other way round: your child takes the lead role and decides when to say ready. He must be told that he is only allowed to say ready if he genuinely thinks it is safe to cross: he is not allowed to test you. You will reply with a yes if it is safe, or a wait if it is unsafe. You must never test him when playing the game this way round either: saying yes when it is unsafe would be risky as he might say now and try to step out onto the road. Your child should obviously be trained to respond to your reply by saying now or wait as appropriate, though he should only need to say the latter if something other than traffic has caused him to change the plan (he may have dropped something). If he takes too long to say now and it is no longer safe to cross, you should say wait to stop the game. Likewise, if you shout wait while he is in the act of saying now, he must learn to stop immediately and step straight back onto the pavement (sidewalk) if he has stepped onto the road. You should of course be holding his hand tightly whenever there might be any real danger.
indentPlaying the game this way round makes a child feel as if he is the leader, but of course the system always ensures that you remain fully in control and can guarantee that you will only cross the road when it really is safe to do so. The decision making is always shared.

Step 6

Before you take your child onto busy roads, you need to introduce three more words. The first of these is back: it is used if you've started to cross a road when a speeding car appears and forces you to retreat to the pavement (sidewalk). The second word is middle: this is used when it is safest to keep going to the middle of the road and to stop there. The third is hurry: this is for those situations where you have to make a dash for the far side. Your child should not use these words when he is with you, but must learn to respond to them instantly and correctly. Practise with him on a quiet road when there are no cars about. If you can't find a road that's quiet enough you may need to go back to using a pretend road either inside or in a garden.
indentThe word hurry must only be used if continuing to the far side. To increase your speed in either direction you can shout hurry or back more loudly and set an example by your own pace. Shouting "run" may be fine if your child is already travelling in the direction you want him to continue in, but it can be dangerous if there are other children with you who may be out of step with the current direction (step 10 covers crossing roads with more than two people).
indentChildren crossing roads without adults should never try to cross a road where they might have to stop in the middle: this is far too dangerous because their size can make them almost invisible. The word middle should therefore only be used by adults unless a considerable misjudgement has been made. On busy roads where the traffic is slow, it is acceptable for adults to decide in advance to stop half way across, but they should always make it very clear to any children with them that they should never copy this when there is no adult with them, and explain why: it's all down to size and nothing to do with intelligence or competence.

Step 7

Once your child understands and responds well to the three new words in step 6 you can use the crossing the road game on busier roads, though your aim should be to avoid the need to use any of the new three words: they are intended for emergencies and are not there to allow you to be less careful. Be sure to observe how well your child judges the traffic, praising him for all his good decisions and warning him whenever his judgement is bad, making sure he always comes away from such a situation understanding exactly where the danger was. If you allow him to take the lead role so that he is the one who says ready, you must always be ready to follow your yes with a wait if he takes too long to say now: you cannot risk letting him delay until it is no longer safe to cross.
indentMake sure that your child is not carrying anything in such a way that he is likely to drop it while crossing a busy road: you don't want him to attempt to turn back to pick it up. Also try to ensure that nothing can fall out of any of his pockets: I would strongly advise you never to buy any jacket for a child which lacks zipped pockets. If his shoes have laces, you should always get him to look to see if they are still tied before you try to cross a busy road and make sure he learns to do this check without needing to be prompted, although a lot depends on the design of the laces as some never come loose while others do so repeatedly.

Step 8

If your child plays the game perfectly and never makes any mistakes, it may be safe for you to start crossing quiet roads without holding his hand, but he must be taught to walk at the same speed as you, neither lagging behind nor running ahead. It is entirely up to you to judge when it is safe not to hold his hand, but bear in mind that he will feel a considerable sense of pride at being allowed to cross roads without being held onto, and he may get upset if you try to revert to holding his hand in situations where he has already proved himself fully competent. Even so, you should only let go of him to begin with on quiet roads where there is no real risk in doing so: the way he behaves in these situations will give you a clear idea as to his attitude and competence.

Step 9

The next thing you need to teach your child is how to pick a good place to cross the road. You will begin by asking him to look for a safe place to cross the road. He should say here when he thinks he has found a suitable place. This is a question, so he should ask it in a questioning tone of voice. you will answer by saying either safe or dangerous as appropriate, explaining to him the exact nature of the danger if it is the latter. You can also do this the other way round, asking him if here (that's your question) is safe or dangerous (that's his reply). You may think it seems like overkill to use these specific words in this way when speed isn't essential, but you'll find that they enable you to discuss road-crossing locations in the middle of conversations with minimal interruption, and that's what makes the system so useful as it can be used by people of all ages - it is not just for children.
indentOnce he has demonstrated a reasonable understanding of what makes a potential crossing point safe or unsafe, you can try him out on streets where there are no fully safe places to cross from. You will now have to discuss how some places are safer or less safe than others, pointing out the dangers as you see them. You are trying to teach him how to pick the safest place to cross, but without going excessively far out of the way. What determines whether it is excessive is how great the danger actually is, so you're trying to pass on your own judgement system: he will pick it up from you through experience of real situations, and that is why it is important that you always try to take the time to explain the reasoning behind your decisions to him. Teach him to use proper crossings if they are available, and to make use of islands to break crossing a busy road into stages. Remember that a place which is safe for you may be highly dangerous for him, for example if he is unable to see over a parked car.
indentWhen you teach your child how to use pelican or zebra crossings, make sure he always looks out for any vehicle overtaking the traffic which has stopped on the near side of the road (the side you're setting out from) - when people are run down on such crossings it is usually because a driver who is unaware of the existence of the crossing mistakenly believes he is overtaking a car which is either parked or is about to park, so it is quite common for people to walk past a lane of stopped traffic and straight out in front of a moving vehicle which doesn't know it's supposed to stop there. Your child should be taught never to expect drivers to follow the rules and to be ready for the unexpected.

Step 10

If there are three of more of you crossing a road together, the simple form of the game is insufficient. Each "player" apart from the leader needs to be given a number before you cross any roads. When the leader says watch, each of the other players must say watching in the order of their numbers, so if there are four players, the word watching should be clearly heard three times: this will show the leader that everyone is paying attention. When the leader says ready, the other players must then say thir number rather than the word "yes", and they must only say their number when it is their turn, so if there are three of them you should hear one, two, three in reply to the ready (unless of course one of them says wait instead). Using numbers rather than the word "yes" makes it easier for the leader to be certain that everyone has responded. Once the leader has heard all the expected numbers, he can say now and they will all cross the road together (though this can still be overridden by a shout of wait or back if any player has a change of mind, the latter option being used if someone has actually stepped onto the road).

[Illustrations may be worthwhile: watch, watching, watching, watching for the first; and ready, one, two, three, now for the second.]

On busy roads when there are more than two people crossing together, the leader should always be the most competent person in the group. If numbers have already been allocated while crossing quiet streets and the leader was not the most competent group member, the new leader should give his number to the previous one so that no other numbers need to be changed.
indentIf the group is large and the road is busy, there may not be time to wait for everyone to say their number. In such a situation the leader can say Ready after this car? and the other players can shout their numbers out in turn as the car approaches and passes, thus enabling the leader to shout now or wait as soon as it has gone by. Variations on this theme may include such constructions as Ready after this lot? if it looks as if it will be clear after a group of vehicles has passed.

[Illustrations: Ready after this car? One, two, three, four in frame one (the picture showing a car passing a group of five people); now in the second frame as the back of the car clears them; and then a picture of the five people hurrying across the road.]

Step 11

There will come a time when you start to allow your child to cross quiet roads on his own. He will obviously be doing this at familiar places to begin with, but you should assume that he might cross roads in unexpected places when you are not there to watch him. Fortunately you know that he has been trained well and should be safe. If he breaks the rules you have set for him, you should deal with this by restricting his freedom for a few weeks, reinstating the previous set of boundaries.
indentThere remain some important aspects to be fine tuned before you set him loose. The Green Cross Code is a good system to use when crossing any busy road: the key points of it being that you should always look right, then left, then right again (in Britain - do the opposite in America) immediately before stepping onto the road and then you should keep looking left and right for newly emerging dangers all the way across. You must make sure that your child always does these things.
indentQuiet roads also present unexpected dangers. If there is no traffic in a street it may be safe to cross diagonally rather than going straight across. You need to teach him to cross at about forty five degrees in empty streets where no car is likely to appear suddenly or at speed. At the first sound of an engine or sight of an approaching cyclist you should immediately change direction and head straight for the pavement (sidewalk). You must make sure that he knows not to rely on listening for engines either: he must always check with his eyes before stepping on the road because bicycles and some electric vehicles are completely silent. He must also keep looking left and right with reasonable frequency all the way across the road for the same reason.
indentOver time, you will loosen up the rules, judging when to do so by a combination of necessity and evidence of your child's attitude and competence. You should remind him from time to time that there are eyes everywhere watching how he behaves while crossing roads, and many of them report back what they see to you. You should also point out any real stories in the news about children who have been knocked down while crossing roads: it often involves a child who is careless or stupid, but sometimes it is the result of a driver travelling at ridiculous speed and the child was doing nothing wrong. I remember one story about a boy who was half way across a road in what should have been a safe place when a car doing 90mph (in a 30mph area) came into view over a hump-backed bridge and he didn't have time to work out which way to run. The most important lesson is to expect the unexpected and assume that drivers are maniacs: your child should learn to think of crossing roads as being a situation where an ambush predator may be waiting to strike, so he should always try to plan his escape in advance and not wait until he can see the car coming.
indentMany children think they are too intelligent to make any mistakes when crossing roads, and for the most part they are right, but the brain is a neural computer and is always capable of making errors. It is worth building some extra defence systems to reduce the remaining risk. One trick to hellp train your child never to step absent-mindedly onto a road without looking is to play a game in an empty street where the road is imagined to be a shallow sea full of sharks: the sharks are there whenever you are not looking, their fins sticking up out of the tarmac, but as soon as you look at the road they all swim away so fast that you can never catch sight of them. The only way you can ever see them is to step on the road without looking first, and then you will see the fin a couple of metres away, just before the teeth rise up out of the road surface and sink into you. I have no idea who thought up this game, but my sister introduced me to it when I was very young and I sometimes find myself looking out for the sharks even now, just in case.
indentWhen you cross roads, concentrating harder will always lead to more brain circuits being involved in judging the situation, thus reducing the chance of any errors going unnoticed. Anything you do to increase your level of concentration will make you safer, so another useful game is to imagine that drivers are actually allowed to speed up and try to run you down when you are on the road: most of them never do so, but some might. you should always ask yourself if you can outrun that car and get to the opposite pavement before the car can get to you.
indentSome children are encouraged to cross dangerous roads by other children in games of "chicken". You must make sure that your child knows that the bravest children are always the ones who refuse to join in such games (after all, the famous question asks why the chicken crossed the road; not why it didn't). There is one particularly good excuse for your child not joining in: he will be grounded for a year if he is spotted, whereas the other children will have nothing to fear if they are spotted because their parents would be only to happy to see them run down.
indentFinally, I would advise that all unaccompanied children should carry an attack alarm, and that all good children should be trained in Karate, Kung Fu or Tae Kwon Do: it is often the presence of bullies that scares children into crossing roads without looking properly or from unsuitable locations, but you can reduce that risk substantially by equipping them with the necessary tools and skills to help keep themselves safe.