Biking to school is an excellent way to incorporate healthy exercise in my child's life but as well in my own. With a large movement of reducing "recess time," I think it is essential for parents motivate our children to live active lives. I know biking to school might seem like a daunting task but just getting out the door with kids is already a monumental task itself!
Biking to school gets the "morning wiggles" out, which helps my extremely active son focus at school. Education is very important but having an active lifestyle that leads to healthy habits is equally important. Over this last school year, I've been able to fine tune our family's habit of biking to school and would love to share and motivate your family to join us in biking to school.
Teach Your Child to Bike
This is an obvious one, but if you want your child to bike to school, make sure they know how to ride a bike without training wheels. This isn't a pro-training wheel post or a pro-balance bike post. I don't care how a child learns how to ride as long as they ride and for those who want to know, my kids learned the old-fashion way: with training wheels (gasp!).
Most kindergartners are 5-6 years old and most are still riding with training wheels if they have a bike at all. Riding a bike with training wheels on cracked streets or side walks just leads to many falls and bikes getting stuck in cracks. In my opinion, biking to school should be done once a child knows how to ride a bike to avoid unnecessary tears.
Ride with your child to school - Not only does it provide safety and a sense of security for your child but it's great exercise for your child and good way for parents to sneak in an exercise routine in busy schedule. I would even take it a step further and recommend biking as family at local parks, on the trails, or even just to get around town. Riding together as a family builds great communication both on and off the bike. My eldest is still a little too young to bike to school alone but even when he's old enough I plan on riding to school with him (and the rest of my children) until they are embarrassed of mom biking with them to school!
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Find Your Route and Practice - Before the school year starts start testing different routes to school for a couple weeks. If the school year has already started then practice on the weekends when there is less car traffic around school. By biking different routes you will find the safest path, which might not be the shortest way to school. For my children, familiarity is very important and they do a lot better knowing where they are going to avoid the "scary" barking dogs, large cracks and spiky bushes, which really helps with reducing any stress on a morning ride to school.
Leave Early - Part of finding your route to school is also timing how long it takes you to ride to school. However long it took to ride to school on a "practice" run, add 15 mins to account for morning incidents, i.e. slept in, flat tire, morning meltdowns, bathroom issues, etc. Download any biking app like Strava or MapMyRide or use a timer to track how long the ride to school takes.
Alternate Mode of Transportation - If the world seems to be against you, have a backup plan to get to school which for most of us means taking a car or walking to school.
Biking with Multiple Children - There are many methods of riding with children so I'm just going to explain the way I bike to school with my three children- ONE child rider and TWO in a bike trailer:
- Parent: Mountain bike with an attached bike trailer with two children inside.
- Child Rider: My son rides his own bike, closely behind my trailer.
My younger daughter recently learned to ride her bike and is requesting to ride in the mornings but I am not comfortable yet riding to school with TWO children on bikes and one in the trailer. I'm thinking some kind of biking "sandwich" method and many practice runs will be involved.
UPDATE 4/30/2018: My daughter outgrew the riding in the trailer around the age of 4/5 years old. Now, I'm riding with two kids on their bikes and one in the trailer using the "PB&J Sandwich" method.
Parent - Bread
Trailer - Peanut Butter
Inexperienced Child Rider - Jelly
Experienced Child Rider - Bread
Prior to allowing my biking children to ride behind me in a line, I trained them to not swerve while riding by having them ride next to me on the street that way they are pinned between the curb and the parent. Once I felt comfortable with their ability to let them ride in a straight line, I allowed them to ride behind on the STREET which leads to my next point of street riding vs. sidewalk riding.
Riding on the Street vs. Riding on the Sidewalk - Sidewalks are for pedestrians and streets are for cars and bicycles....well yes and no. There are many "rules" about where to ride, so this is my stance and experience with riding on the street vs. the sidewalk.
- The Sidewalk - We normally ride on the sidewalks on our way to school in the mornings, why? The reason why is because drivers are CRAZY in the morning. I feel like my child is mostly protected but sidewalks also have dangers of the own with blocked views of cars backing out of driveways, badly cracked sidewalk, overgrown bushes, etc.
- The Street - This is can be very scary for adult rider let alone a child rider! Just like anything else in life practicing will bring familiarity and confidence, so take to the streets after school when there is less traffic. Teach your child to stay right behind you and to communicate if he/she needs you to slow down or speed up. Nine months into the school year my son finally feels safer on the street than the sidewalk so don't worry if it takes a little while for your child to feel comfortable.
Car Safety and Traffic - Children don't have a good sense of risk and danger, combine that with late frantic drivers and it can be an extremely dangerous situation. As a parent it is essential to set a good example for my children and practice safe biking skills such as using hand signals, walking bikes across streets, not running red lights, etc.
Be Aggressive About Safety - Protect your children while biking at ALL costs. I'm an angry "Mama Bear" when I'm riding with my children. People are very oblivious when driving especially in the morning, so I suggest being overly cautious and be very vocal when biking with your children to school or anywhere.
Wear Helmets - No. 1 rule is wear a helmet and wear it correctly. Be an example and wear one yourself, kids can see through hypocrisy so if you force them to wear a helmet and you don't wear one yourself they will notice. Go to a local bike store and get your child fitted. Sadly, one of my childhood classmates was killed in a minor biking accident because even though he was wearing his helmet it wasn't clipped on.
Biking Equipment - Carry a bike repair kit, pump, spare inner tube, bike lock, and a first aid kit. More importantly learn to use all the equipment because there's no point in carrying this items if you don't know how to use them.
Rewards and Celebrate
Biking to school is fun and I love to give my children rewards and celebrate little milestones on our "commute" to school. Bring snacks, water or juice for after the ride to motivate the kids to ride. This is a good time to eat up Halloween and Valentines day candies as rewards after a ride. Celebrate the fact that your child is no longer scared to ride by the "scary dog" house. We recently celebrated my son's 200th mile, which he mostly accumulated by biking to and from school!