Why You Should Let Your Child Bike To School

You are an adult; you have a commute; and (unless you home school), your kids have a commute as well. If you think there are good reasons for you to ride a bike to work, you may also consider good reasons for your kids to ride to school.

Picture of kids playing video games
Biking to school may be the only exercise kids get. Photo by Charli White.

In a recent post on “five things your commute teaches your children,” I held up the power of example as a teaching tool. There is another almost equally powerful teaching tool…doing. When you teach your children and then have them do what you have taught, you reinforce teaching with experience.

Here’s an interesting fact from the Safe Routes To School website: In 1969, 48% of children between the ages of 5 and 14 walked or road a bike to school. In 2009 just 13% of children that age walk or bike to school. It is probably no coincidence that childhood obesity and its related health issues have skyrocketed since 1969. Which leads to my first reason why you should consider letting your child bike to school.

Bike to School for Health

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children have 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day. If riding a bike to and from school takes a half hour each way, your child has met this requirement without even trying. With many schools eliminating recess, this twice-daily activity may be your child’s best hope for movement.

Bike to School for Quality of Life

Although we have studies showing that physical activity promotes psychological well-being, we don’t really need them. We all remember the sense of well-being that comes from running for a ball, riding a skateboard, or pedaling at high speed with friends. Exercise releases chemicals that provide a feeling of well-being.

Riding to school gives children a break from adults. It empowers them by demonstrating that they can survive without the immediate presence of an adult and by proving that they can get themselves anywhere they need to be.

Bike to School to Build Habits

The proverb says, “Train up a child  in the way he should go: and when he is old he will not depart from it.” The lessons and attitudes we learn when young exercise the  greatest influence on us, and habits of activity, empowerment, and thinking differently will pay big dividends later in life.

Why You Don’t Want Your Child to Bike To School

“Why shouldn’t kids bike to school,” I asked my wife. “Because they will end up with their heads cracked open bleeding by the side of the road,” she answered, only half facetiously. *Everyone knows* that sending your child to school on foot or on a bike is a death sentence, but consider:

  • In 2010 311 children were killed and 23,000 injured biking or walking in the United States, while 1,21o children were killed and 171,000 were killed inside motor vehicles.
  • Parents driving children to school comprise up to 25% of morning rush hour traffic. When we kids used to get on my dad’s nerves, he would tell us to go play in traffic. I was reminded of those instructions when I saw kids being dropped off curbside at  the elementary school.
  • All those idling cars are generating pollution, and cases of childhood asthma.
  • Accidents are dangerous, but so are juvenile diabetes, high blood pressure, joint and bone problems, and high cholesterol.

What You Can Do

  • Think about whether riding a bike to school makes sense for your child…then think about it again. If your child attends a neighborhood school biking may be a good option. If you child is at a charter school across town where she plays the double bass in the orchestra, biking to school may not work.
  • Scout a route to school. Look for side streets, other kids on bikes, low traffic speeds and good visibility. Ride the route with your child and make sure he understands the route. Have him lead to show you that he knows where he is going.
  • Talk with other parents and the principal to address real and perceived obstacles to getting kids on bikes. Google biking to school for sites like bike.walk.schools!
  • Make sure your child knows the rules of the road, how to lock up her bike, and how to be safe.

Question: What concerns you about letting your child bike to school? Enter your comments in the form below.

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