By Eric Braun
The end of summer may have you thinking about how to set up your child’s school routines this year to be more efficient, healthier, and happier all around. As kids get ready to return to the classroom, help them plan to ride their bikes to school at least a couple of times a week. Regardless of their grade level, almost all kids are capable of biking—or walking—to school instead of hitching a ride.
Here are three reasons they should.
1. It’s good for the body
As we all know, exercise is good for you. Making a bike commute part of your kids’ routine is an easy way to build exercise into their day. You don’t have to pry them away from their smartphones, books, or video games with exhortations to get outside and play. Heck, we can all feel a little better about screen time if we know our kids have logged two 15-minute bike rides by the time they get home from school.
2. It’s good for the soul
Simply put, riding a bike is fun. You’re using your body to power a machine and go fast! Riding to school also fosters a sense of independence and is a way kids can accomplish something for themselves before sitting in a classroom all day. An added benefit is that kids who ride together develop a camaraderie.
3. It’s good for the brain
Studies have shown that the best way to boost brain power is to exercise. Exercise builds new neurons and helps wire them into the existing neural network. Check out this page at the Centers for Disease Control for more information about the link between physical health and improved academic performance.
To see something really cool, click here to see two composite brain scans—one taken after sitting quietly and one after a 20-minute walk.
Encouraging Kids to Ride
The best way to encourage kids to bike more is to model biking. If you bike to work now and then, or if you treat biking as an important part of your family’s life, kids will pick up on it. With younger kids, nothing inspires them more than if you ride along with them.
The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition is an organization that works to encourage biking for everyone in the city of Minneapolis, one of the most cycle-friendly in the United States. Board member Amy Brugh believes schools can (and should) do as much as parents to encourage biking. Besides supplying ample bike racks in a convenient location, Brugh suggests schools should offer free bike locks that kids can check out in the office if they don’t have one. Younger students could receive stickers or other rewards for biking or walking. One school in Minneapolis that transports students via bus from a long distance has days when kids are dropped several blocks from the school so they can walk the final stretch.
The adults at school are important role models, too. “My son’s teacher and principal rode to school every day last year,” says Brugh. “They role-modeled it, even through the winter.”
Can kids ride through the winter, too? Don’t underestimate their hardiness. Even in frigid Minnesota, kids do ride or walk a few blocks to school. “It feels good to them,” says Brugh.
However, if kids don’t have a safe route to ride or a school that makes biking easy and safe, then encouragement and hardiness won’t matter much. It’s up to cities and elected officials to make biking safer and more appealing. Safe Routes to School is a national organization working on just that. Go to their website to check out their initiatives, find out if you have a local chapter, and get involved. It’s a good place to start if you want to help make biking to school a priority in your community.
The most important step in starting a bike-to-school habit is to get that first ride out of the way. If you have a reluctant rider, talk to other parents about organizing days for kids to bike together. Once kids start cycling, they might never want to stop. And every day they’ll be getting healthier—body, brain, and soul.
What challenges have you faced (and overcome!) in encouraging kids to bike or walk to school?
Eric Braun is a writer and editor living in Minneapolis. If you organize a bike rodeo, he would totally go. Learn more at heyericbraun.com.
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