The easiest way to make sure your kids get enough exercise is to help your kids to walk or bike to school. This post provides advice and tips on how to help your kids start to bike to school safely. It really is possible, as you can see in this video about kids cycling to school in Portland, Oregon.
I remember how I loved to bike to school as a child. I didn’t know it back then, but that was giving me all the daily exercise I needed to grow up fit and strong. It also started me on a lifelong habit of exercise. To this day, decades later, I still make sure I get plenty of exercise. I went through a long period of being a runner, and now as I have got older, I have returned to cycling (as it’s easier on the joints). When I returned to cycling, I was beyond exhilarated to rediscover what fun it is to ride a bike! I think every child should have the opportunity to experience this joy, and get their daily exercise in a fun way.
As a child and a teenager, I walked or biked to and from school every day with a group of friends. As I grew older my bike became my principal transportation. Parents in my generation didn’t spend a lot of time chauffeuring their kids. On weekends my friends and I would take long bike rides into different areas of the city. Sometimes we would bring along our tennis rackets and spend an hour or so on the tennis court before cycling home.
Cycling for me meant freedom. I could travel outside my neighborhood, and go anywhere I liked. I felt safe and I felt strong. It saddens me that today it has become rare for children to bike to school. So many children today are missing out on these experiences because of safety fears, either their own fears or their parents’.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not critical of protective parents. Parenting is always such a tough job. It simply makes me sad that so many kids are growing up without knowing the joys of biking. And now that school districts are dropping physical education from their curriculum, the responsibility for keeping kids active is left to parents. Helping kids bike to school safely is such a good way to do keep them active every day.
Everyone knows that most Western kids don’t get enough exercise. Instead of constantly being glued to monitors of all kinds, they should be getting at least 60 minutes of daily exercise. There’s even a new term for it: exercise deficit disorder! The easiest way to introduce the recommended 60 minutes of daily exercise is to help your kids to walk or bike to school. This means less organized activities and less parental chauffeuring. Exercise simply becomes part of daily life, which in itself is building a good habit. The benefits for children who bike to school are:
- Developing strength, balance, and overall fitness
- Burning up calories
- Strengthening the heart, lungs, and lower-body muscles and bones
- Developing and strengthening the muscles surrounding the knees without impact
I would add my own experiences. As a child, riding a bike to school helped me to:
- Improve my mood
- Build my self-confidence
- Improve my self-reliance
- Have a lot of fun!
Encouraging Kids to Bike to School
September is here and this is a perfect time to make a plan to get your kids ready to bike to school. HUB recently tweeted an article about the Washington DC school district that has now incorporated bike skills training into the elementary school curriculum. In the 2015 school year, all second graders in the city’s public schools are learning how to ride a bike in physical education.
The city already incorporates bike safety education into its curriculum as part of Safe Routes to School, but the instructors began to notice that large groups of kids didn’t just need safety training, they needed more basic instruction on how to ride a bike in the first place.
The DC Department of Transportation bought 475 sturdy bikes that will be transferred between schools across the district so that a quarter of the district’s elementary schools will have enough bikes and helmets at any one time. The second graders will get his or her own bike during P.E. and then the bikes will be rotated to a different school.
Kids who already know how to ride will do obstacle courses or otherwise improve their riding skills, while those who have never been on a bike will have more specialized instruction to learn the basics. The universal bike education initiative will also put the city’s expanding bike share program within reach for more people. The goal is to give more people in DC the ability to get around town in a healthy, environmentally friendly, cost-efficient way.
In Vancouver, local enthusiasts (with funding from Mountain Equipment Co-op) are setting up a program to teach bike skills to kindergarten kids! See Kids on Wheels – Give the Gift of Wheeee!
Make a Plan to Get your Child ready to Bike to School
Until your local school district embraces cycling into their curriculum, you can always turn to your local bike shop or local biking association to find out about courses for kids to learn basic bike skills. Or if you are skilled, you can teach them yourself.
Once your kids are ready to bike to school, check out the routes from your home to your child’s school. Find the safest route and travel it with your child a few times before they go solo. And reach out to local cycling organizations. You will probably be surprised to find all the resources that exist. Such as this one:
— Linda Buchanan (@LindaCBuchanan) September 30, 2016
Practicing a safe route will allow your child to build confidence and will give you peace of mind. Check with friends and neighbors to see if there is a chance to form a bike group. Safety in numbers is very true in cycling. You may even want to become a ride leader, and lead a group of children safely to school!
Equipment to Bike to School
The better equipped any cyclist is, the less likely they are to avoid biking. You really only need a bike and a helmet to help your child start to bike to school in early fall. This will allow you and your child to test the plan before making any major investment in equipment. The only item you absolutely have to buy new is a good-quality helmet. Also make sure that the helmet is properly fitted to your child before you leave the bike store.
As for the bikes, you need to consider the route that your child is riding to school. Is it on or off road, or both; are there hills; what is the distance? Your child may already have a BMX bike in the garage for weekends, but is this suitable for their school commute? Your local bike store is a good place to start, but if money is a concern (and it usually is for everyone) then consider purchasing a used bike. Joe has written an excellent book to help you buy used bikes. You can get a free copy of the book as a download if you subscribe to this blog!
If you are buying used, or your child’s bike hasn’t been ridden in some time, then be sure to have the bike tuned up at your local bike store. The chain should be cleaned and greased, and the brake pads checked and replaced if necessary. These days it can be hard to find a bike store that will do the chain cleaning for you – here is a post that describes a quick and easy way to keep your chain clean.
Cycling Equipment for Fall and Winter
In late fall to early winter it gets dark and gloomy so you will need to have additional equipment:
Lights – lights should really be used year round for road safety but definitely essential in fall and winter. Joe and I also use Monkeylectric lights as well for added visibility (and a smile and nod from many drivers – Monkeylectric are sets of brightly coloured LED lights that make patterns as your wheel spins). Joe has posted a complete guide to bike lights here.
Rain gear – make sure that your child has good rain gear that is waterproof and highly visible. This can also be used through the winter with a layer of warm clothes underneath. Cycling gear should be lightweight and provide a good range of motion.
Panniers – again, these need to be highly visible, waterproof and sturdy enough to carry school books. Joe has reviewed his Arkel pannier here – it is quite ideal for school kids as it doubles as a backpack. It takes seconds to convert it from a pannier to a backpack. However, it would not suit smaller kids as it is quite large. I would say you have to be at least 4 foot six inches to use the Arkel pannier/backpack. Apart from that, there are an enormous variety of panniers to choose from.
Footwear – this doesn’t necessarily mean expensive cycling shoes, but some all-weather shoes with a relatively rigid sole will do the trick.
Part of being a responsible cyclist is learning to take care of your bike. This is a great time to give your child skills for life by helping him or her learn to keep their chain clean, and also learn the basics on how to keep their bike clean. The posts I have linked to should be a great help with this.
With a little planning you can launch your child on a journey that will lift their mood, increase their self-confidence and improve their health. It will also instill a lifelong love of cycling that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. Now what parent doesn’t want that for their children?
Ride often, ride safe! – Maggie
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