How to Encourage Your Kids To Ride To School
Most parents you speak to you tell you they have fond memories of riding bikes when they were a kid and they have great stories about riding to school for many years - in primary and high school.
This is not surprising because...
in the '70s, 8 out of 10 kids rode to school. Now, its only 2 out of 10 and we are confident that number is going to start rising again
Ride2School Day comes around but once a year, but really its not that hard to have kids riding to school all year round in most towns around Australia.
And there are so many reasons to get kids riding to school. Not only does it increase kids' fitness and wellbeing, when kids ride to school, they arrive awake and alert, improving their concentration in class and ability to understand the curriculum.
At what age can kids ride to school?
There are many considerations to factor in - the length of the ride, whether there are hills to contend with, if the footpaths are wide enough (or if there are breaks in the footpath at all), whether there are footpaths or bike lanes at all, what the traffic route is like and how many roads need to be crossed.
For the younger kids, they can ride to school accompanied by their parents or carers at any age - right from prep or pre-school. We see very confident riders from as young as 5 riding to school, with their parents either riding alongside them or walking/running (and making most of that time to get thier activity in for the day!).
For the older kids, there's no law governing what age kids can ride to school on their own but it is suggested that around 8/9/10 most kids will have the necessary skills to manage the ride on their own. This can only be judged by the parents - knowing the kids' confidence and abilities, and taking into consideration all the factors mentioned above on the school route.
In this great article by Nicole Avery from Planning With Kids, she quotes research suggesting the age of 10 is a good indicator of letting kids ride or walk to school on their own:
"[kids under 10] are less good at judging the distance of a car and how fast it is travelling; and their peripheral vision – the ability to 'see things out of the corner of their eye' – isn't as good as an adult's. So children under the age of 10 shouldn't be crossing the road without an adult. (Source: ABC: Health Matters – The Pulse)"
As noted in another article about the laws and riding on footpaths, according to the Bicycle Network, "research shows students up to the age of 16 are much more likely to take risks adults wouldn't when riding on the roads making footpaths the best place for younger riders.
...Their ability to assess risks on the road and their visual and perceptual skills aren't fully developed, so allowing students to ride on footpaths – whether they're doing it for the first time or they've done it before during their primary school years - means they can learn these skills in an environment with far less traffic."
Here's our top tips on getting your kid started or back into riding to school:
Have a Good Kids Bike Helmet. Make sure you've fitted it properly. The ByK helmet meets the highest safety standards in the world. With the fully adjustable ByK fit system, sizing suits a range from 52 to 57cms head size, or most kids between 4-10 years.
A reflective panel on the rear, chin protector, sun visor, large vents and vibrant colours makes the ByK helmet no.1 in safety and design. See how far kids helmet design has come looking at it next to the old Stackhat of the 80s!
See our guide on how to correctly fit a kids bike helmet.
Encourage Kids to Use a Bike Lock. Teach kids the responsiblity of owning a bike by making them lock it up at school or even when they go to extra-curricular activities or outings. When you lock your bike, you take ownership and responsiblity of taking care of it and this will spill on to other areas of their life. Check out the ByK kids bike locks - light, easy and attaches to their bike so it is there when they need it.
Use a Bicycle Bell. All ByK's come with a bell but you can customise your ByK with some really cool bells out there. We love Beep Bicycle Bells, hand painted here in Australia (the sound is so 'old school'!) and we've seen a few customised ByK's around with the ultra cool Electra Bicycle Bells too. Check out your local bicyce store to find more options.
Bicycle Lights. You might not intend on your kid riding at night or even dusk or dawn, but sometimes with dark clouds and during winter months, they might end up riding in very low light and having the bicycle lights ready and working is essential. We recommend at the very least having a mini led-type light attached to the back of helmet. This is a clever place to have a light, up high in the most visible spot so motorists have a good chance of seeing them.
Practice Traffic Skills. Even if you intend for your children to ride on the footpath or on bike tracks only, its never too early to teach kids traffic skills. At the very least, teach your kids how to signal and how to avoid common bike-car collisions. Check out the Bicycle Network website for skills resources.
When we interviewed Lucy O'Dwyer, a ByK Mum, she told us about the fantastic bicycle skills workshops she holds at her children's primary school which focus on traffic and safety skills for kids. Read her interview here.
Let the Kids Ride Wild...in Safety. Kids take risks - we all know they're going to do it - so let them test their limits in an environment you are comfortable with - not on the school bike route. Get out on weekends to local parks, pump tracks or even further afield in national parks and let them rip it up, do some jumps, see what it feels like to skid, fly and ride totally fast. They'll thank you for getting them out there and at the same time you can help them learn how to judge dangerous situations and learn how to react quickly.
Ride with Your Kids or Ride-Pool. In the early years, the best thing you can do is to ride with your kids to school but another option is to organise a ride-pool group with other parents/kids in your neighbourhood. It might take some coordincation and the riding parent will need to be comfortable with each kids riding skills, but it means that there are more opportunities for younger kids to ride to school, with at least 1 parent supervising the trip.
Bicycle Safety Check. Last, but not least, make sure the bike is in good working order. This is a great infographic from the Bicycle Network that your kids will be able to easily read and remember: