Encouraging your Children to Bike to School—Safety Tips and Practices
When kids bike to school—instead of being driven by their parents or caretaker—the benefits are numerous. Not only does it ease local traffic and teach the children a lifelong skill, it helps kids release pent-up energy and arrive at school with a clear head.
Even students in kindergarten may be able to safely ride to school, as long as they have a watchful adult to accompany them. Here are some tips to get you and your child started.
Plan your route. Many communities and schools sponsor Safe Routes to School programs and group rides. You may also want to talk to other parents and kids that bike to school.
Brush up on cycling skills. Some schools or communities offer classes on cycling skills for kids. While you're at it, you might consider refreshing your own skills and knowledge about riding safely.
Ride behind your child. Generally young children need to be shadowed when riding in traffic, so you can talk to them about what's safe and what's risky. Riding behind them allows you to see what they are doing. Follow at a comfortable distance.
Help your child learn in context. While kids are first learning a route to school, expect sudden and mysterious stops or turns. That's the time to firmly remind them that their actions have effects on other traffic, including you. Such repeated contextual learning is critical to instilling safe cycling smarts.
Continue to guide your child. Until children are approximately nine to eleven years old, most are not developmentally able to effectively judge traffic and the risks riding a bicycle entails. With pre-teens, it's important to give continued guidance about things like riding in a straight line; saving the jumps and no-hands riding for the appropriate place and time (not morning rush hour); and knowing and following the rules of the road.
Going Solo. Once your child is able to ride to school on their own, arrange for them to ride with others who ride at similar levels. Don't assume that preteens will be able to safely supervise younger children; they may be fine on their own, but might not be up to the responsibility of being in charge of that pesky eight-year-old who cannot keep the same blazing pace.
Learn More. Transportation Alternatives offers an array of information on safe routes to school.