Many adults can recall a time when they took their bicycles anywhere and everywhere, sometimes miles from home without a backward glance from their parents. However, the times have changed and safety has increasingly become a well-founded concern for parents of young children.
The dual questions of: when is my child ready to bike to school alone and will they be able to get from home to school and back safely continue to rise parental concern and leave parents asking is it worth the risk to even let them bike?
So let’s break it down!
The age a child starts biking to school is a big concern for many parents, but there is really no right answer to this because every child is different and develops at different times. For some children this can be as early as third grade or perhaps younger, for others it may mean middle school is the best time for them to begin biking. Therefore, it is important to go by what feels right to you as a parent, for your child, and your family. A great way to learn if your child is ready is to start by biking with them to school. This way you can see where their skill level is at and if there are things they still need to learn you can teach them as they go. After you believe they might be ready you can always do what my father did and follow them, secretly, in the car to reassure yourself that they are in fact ready to bike on their own.
Another great way to let your child ease into biking to school is by starting out young and giving them levels of freedom. Perhaps first they are just allowed to bike around the block alone. Then to a nearby park; each time increasing the distance and practicing this new form of communication.
If you are not comfortable with your student biking alone it is possible that a bike train in your community already exists or you could create one. A bike train is a group of children who bike to school together every day and are led by an adult supervisor. For more information click here.
Fact: According to the Safe Routes to School website: “In 1969, 48 percent of children 5 to 14 years of age usually walked or bicycled to school. Compare that to 2009, where 13 percent of children 5 to 14 years of age usually walked or bicycled to school.
Many parents’ biggest fears are about traffic and safety and living in an area with high levels of traffic make this quite understandable. To address this concern it is good practice to ask yourself if biking to school is a possible option for your child, for some parents who live far away or in a very busy town the answer may be no, but perhaps there is another route to school that is safe for your child. If a safe route exists you can ride with your child and teach them how to ride the route safely; where the stop signs are; where they should be riding their bike; and areas where they may have to be more cautious.
Secondly, more general safety concerns can be prevented by teaching your child both the rules of the road and safe practices such as wearing a helmet every time they are on their bicycle. These lessons can be instilled early and be non-negotiable rules when your child is on their bike. For more educational information about safe riding and how to correctly wear a helmet check out the Bicycle Safer Journey which provides videos and quizzes to educate your child and have them sign the pledge to wear there helmet every time they ride their bike on Helmets on Heads
Finally, it is easy to say that there are just too many concerns and questions to deal with or that the risk is not worth it, but conceder this. According to Momentum Magazine “studies demonstrate that a 30-minute walk or bike ride to school greatly increase a child’s ability to focus in the class room”. To top that, the USDA recommends 60 minutes of physical activity for children each day. With the staggering numbers reported pertaining to childhood obesity and inactiveness biking proves to be a potentially successful way for children to not only hit their levels of active minutes each day and maintain a healthy weight, but also be more focused in school.
For more information check out these great resources!
Safe Routes to School: http://www.saferoutesinfo.org/
Bicycle Safer Journey: http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/bicyclesaferjourney/
Helmets on Heads: http://www.helmetsonheads.org/
Get Out and Ride!