Kids are steadily heading back to school across the country, if not now, soon. That means huge crowds of cars as parents hurry to get their children to class on time. These days relatively few kids get themselves to school, and I think that’s a shame. What if more parents encouraged their kids to walk or bike to school, as used to be normal?
I’m a big fan of kids getting to school on their own. My older two walk to school. It’s easy, as we’re less than a quarter mile from the school. Only risky part is crossing the street to the school with all the parents driving in to drop their kids off.
Close as we are, they don’t need to ride bikes there. I don’t mind if they do. They’d have to be extra careful as they got close to the school, maneuvering around all the people who parked in the neighborhood and are now walking onto school property. It gets very crowded around the parking lot, and bicycles have to be walked at that point.
But how do you decide if it’s the right choice for your kids to ride their bikes to school? It’s healthier for them than riding in the car and better for the environment, but is it safe? Here are some points for you to consider.
If your child’s school says they’re too young to ride to school, odds are you aren’t going to let him or her ride a bike to school. Some parents do take on this battle (can the school really say what your child does off campus outside school hours?), but for many it’s simpler to go with the rules set by the school so the bike can stay at the school during the day.
You also need to know where the bike will stay during the day. Our school has a fenced off bike rack where kids can lock their bikes up for the day. I’ve noticed that a lot of kids don’t even bother locking up their bikes beyond putting it in the bike rack. Personally, I’d tell kids to lock up their bikes even so, but I have to admit it doesn’t seem to have been a problem.
Bike Riding Ability
Is your child good enough on his or her bike to ride to school and deal with the crowds upon arrival? Schools often want kids off the bike once they get on campus – things are just too crowded for a bicycle to be ridden safely. You not only want your child riding the bike well enough to deal with any traffic on the way to school, you want your child able to walk their bike without bumping into other people, and the sense to know when it’s time to get off the bike and walk it.
Are you in a situation where you child could ride to school safely? Is the neighborhood generally safe? Are there any streets you don’t want your child riding on that can’t be avoided on the way to school? Does your child watch out for cars as they ride?
Appropriate Safety Gear
Does your child’s bike helmet fit properly or is it time for a new one? Your child should know how to put it on correctly and agree to always keep the straps fastened while riding. I’ve seen lots of kids riding with bike helmet on but unfastened, and that’s not going to help in an accident.
A Well Maintained Bike
Be sure your child’s bike is in good condition for riding. Brakes work, tires well inflated, things like that. While a bike can develop a problem on the way, you want to minimize the chances for that to happen.
It should also be the right size for your child. Not so tall that your child has trouble touching the ground when stopped, not so short that it’s uncomfortable to ride.
A Plan For Problems
Sometimes stuff happens when kids are out on their own. Make sure they know what to do about flat tires, crashes and so forth. You can decide if it’s worth it to have your child carry a cell phone (pay attention to school rules about cell phones) or if there are enough options for your child to get help if it’s needed on the way.
I live in Florida. I am NOT a fan of kids going back and forth to school by bike, or walking without an adult. Too many kids have been kidnapped, hit by cars, bullied, etc. Just too many dangers out there. And too many parents are fooled into thinking that just because they are close to the school, or they live in a small town where “nothing ever happens”, they are immune to these dangers. I never, ever let my kids get on or off the bus without myself or their dad there to meet them. Thankfully, our school district has a policy where they will not let the child off the bus, without an authorized adult there to get them. And if it is not the mother or father, they are ID’d and checked against a list of approved guardians. Otherwise, the child is taken back to the school where they wait in the office until an authorized person can pick them up.
Statistically, kids are far more likely to die in a car accident than be kidnapped by a stranger. Now if there are family issues that could lead to kidnapping, that’s another deal to be dealt with by individual families and schools, and it may be appropriate to not let those particular children walk or ride bikes to or from school. Similarly, if there has been suspicious people hanging about your area, there may also be legitimate cause for concern. But usually, kids will be just fine.
Bullying can happen on school campus too, not just on the way home. I’m not dismissing it, but it’s not prevented by saying kids can’t have this small amount of independence.
Kids out in groups are pretty safe from most dangers. Let them walk or ride in groups and they’re more visible to cars and less appealing to bullies or the very rare stranger kidnapper.