Helping your Child Walk or Bike to School

copyright Jenifer Joy MaddenA good way for kids to be durable in the long run is by learning how to get themselves around. Riding the bus certainly helps them to become more self-reliant, but if they walk or bike they also get a good workout, fresh air and a healthy dose of freedom.

Unlike how it was when you were growing up, only 1 in 10 kids today walk or bike to school. To improve those odds, the national Safe Routes to School program sponsors International Bike to School Day in the spring (this year on May 6)  and Walk to School Day in October.

More and more, school systems in the U.S. and around the world are endorsing the Days, as we have recently here in Fairfax County, Virginia. Some of our schools have expanded to Bike and Walk Week and are even challenging each other to friendly competitions. Others schools encourage students to walk or bike on a particular day each week.   copyright Jenifer Joy Madden

If you want your child give it a try, check out these suggestions I put together for Activity Rocket, a local parenting site.

1. Read the SRTS parent info page to brush up on the basics.

2. Map out a safe route with this free online mapping tool.

3. If you and your child plan to cycle, watch this tried-and-true kid cycling safety video together. (It’s a little dated, so if you know of a more modern version, do tell!)

4. Before setting out, check your equipment to make sure:

  • tires are full
  • brakes work
  • chains are tight
  • helmets fit!

Yes, it’s true—since children younger than age 10 generally lack the judgment to cross a street alone, you will have to ride or walk with them. If that isn’t possible, perhaps you and your neighbors can organize a walking school bus or your child can join a bike train like this one started by one of our local dads (and later featured on Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play TV special!)

You’ll have to judge whether your middle-schooler is mature enough to go it alone safely. If you have kids in high school, it is possible to fight the driving bug. Start by telling them walking and biking makes them more buff, gives them some chill-out time, and cuts down on the mad car traffic in the parking lot.

If no one is walking or biking to school in your area and it’s possible to do it safely, in order to change the status quo you may need to take matters into your own hands. SRTS has advice for kicking off an encouragement campaign with school administrators, local authorities and other parents. As for getting the guts to do that, I can tell you from experience that one person who cares can make a big difference. Enlisting a few other friendly, like-minded and energetic people can change everything.

Bikers and walkers at Wolftrap Elementary in Vienna, Virginia on Bike to School Day 2012

Want more inspiration for raising active, engaged kids? Read the 15-minute Durable Human  Manifesto. Now also available as an Audiobook, complete with music and the sounds of happy kids at play! 

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