Back to school is just around the corner, and after a very strange year, it is safe to say that many kids, and parents alike, are looking forward to getting back into a more predictable routine. After all the chaos and uncertainty caused by the pandemic, this year offers an ideal opportunity to instate new habits and establish a healthy and sustainable lifestyle as we return to the ‘new normal.’
Whether you’re dealing with hybrid learning or a total return to in-class studies—encouraging your child to ride their bike to school offers many benefits. It is a fantastic way to boost mental and physical health, help them learn the geography of the local area, and get their legs used to a few extra miles (so they’re ready for those longer weekend trips).
That being said, not everyone jumps at the opportunity of hopping on a bike, and sometimes getting kids excited about the prospect of riding to school is a struggle. Thankfully, the number of young people on bikes is on the rise, and with school and community-driven initiatives and clubs, you’ll likely have all the support you need to convince them to give it a shot.
So, if you’re interested in promoting an active lifestyle in your children, where they can learn independence while becoming safe and responsible young people, here are some tips to get them excited about riding their bikes to school!
Assess the situation
The best way to make your young rider feel confident taking the ride to school is to ensure they know exactly what to expect. So, first thing’s first, make sure you’re dealing with a reasonable route (length, hills, paths, etc.) before you start putting any feelers out to see if they’re interested.
Do the route yourself at the time of day your child would be riding, and pay extra attention to things like what the traffic is like and how many intersections need to be crossed. Generally speaking, younger kids should be accompanied by a parent or caregiver while riding to school—unless it is only a block or two. Most older kids will have the necessary skills to manage the ride on their own by around the age of eight or nine. Of course, this also depends on the kids’ confidence and abilities. All the factors mentioned above should also be taken into consideration.
Once you’ve determined that there is a safe and accessible route your child can use to get to school, it is time to take the next steps!
Reach out to the school
In many countries, there are government-funded initiatives to encourage kids to ride their bikes, and you can get information about them at your child’s school. In addition, many schools maintain specific databases dedicated to sharing information about routes that kids are taking to school. Some schools may even provide referrals to other families looking for bike riding commuting partners. See if there are any programs you can join—it’ll give you and your child added peace of mind and will likely mean they have a buddy or two to ride with.
Get the right gear and practise safety protocol
Of course, you want to make sure that your child has a good handle on the rules of the road before sending them off to school by bike. You can check out some safety basics here. In addition, it is essential that they are comfortable using any new gear they might need. For many young people, riding to school might be the first time they need to use a bike lock. Ensure you get a durable lock, but also one that your child can easily manipulate and carry. Talk to them about the responsibility of owning a bike and make sure they feel completely at ease using the lock or any other bike accessories (lights and bell) on their own. You don’t want to add any additional stress to the situation.
Consider a ride-pool
In the event that your child is willing to ride but doesn’t want to do it alone, it is time to explore your options. If you can’t ride with them every day, try organising a ride-pool group with other parents or kids in your neighbourhood. This will likely take a bit of time to coordinate and get used to, but it often means that there are more opportunities for younger kids to ride to school— with at least one parent supervising the trip.
Focus on benefits that appeal to them
Children are often hesitant to embrace new hobbies or activities that they feel are being imposed upon them by their parents. You might love the fact that riding your bike boosts fitness, but that benefit could hold minimal appeal to your child. Instead, focus on aspects of cycling that align with their personality. That could mean emphasising the newfound independence they will gain by transporting themselves to school and being responsible for a bike. On the other hand, maybe your child has recently expressed interest in environmental concerns and would respond well to a reminder of cycling’s green credentials.
Ease into it and don’t forget to have fun
If you’re dealing with a child who is genuinely hesitant about the idea of riding to school, it might be worth adjusting your expectations a bit and working up to more independence. You can start with one day a week where you ride to and from school together, sweetening the deal with a planned stop on the way home to a playground, a place to get a snack, or the home of a friend. Remember that you’re trying to cultivate a life-long love of cycling, so taking baby steps towards that goal is just fine!