“My youngest has recently started riding his sister’s bigger bike and commented ‘I’m going sooo fast…. wheeeee!’” Sean Clutterbuck has three children: Flynn is eight years old, Tara is six and Eric the speed demon is four.
“He was only doing about 10-15km/h but he loved it.”
The Clutterbuck kids have been riding with their parents in one form or another since before they could walk; first in a bike trailer, then on a bike seat, and then on their own bikes. All three were riding without training wheels by the age of four.
And unlike most children in Australia, they regularly ride their bikes to school.
Recent reports show Australian school children are not walking or cycling to school as much as they used to. The National Cycling Strategy Implementation Report, Active Healthy Kids Australia Progress Report, and Transport Canberra’s Keep Canberra Moving report all show that Australian children are mostly chauffeured to and from school by car.
Many parents are concerned about potential threats their children could encounter while riding a bike in public. The parental mind is at its most creative when imagining awful things that could happen to their child.
So why would any parent encourage their child to walk or ride a bike to school?
“It was a way of incorporating active travel as part of their lives, and it’s fun,” says Sean, who rides with his young children.
“It is something we can all do together which allows the kids a degree of freedom, plus permits them to go faster, travel further and therefore cover more ground than they would walking. Plus, [they] see and explore in a way not possible from the car.”
For Zoe Bowman, who lives in Canberra’s north, the idea of her children getting themselves to and from school is liberating, for herself and also her children.
“Partly I wanted them to have the freedom of it, said Zoe. “I loved walking to and from school when I was a kid, or at least I’m nostalgic about it.”
Her youngest, nine-year-old Jethro, walks to the primary school near their house, while 14-year-old Sage rides his bike to high school every day.
Zoe says that independence, “massive parental convenience” and fitness are the main benefits her family get from their kids walking and riding to school.
“When Sage started high school, it was going to be really logistically annoying to drive him, so he just rode from the beginning.”
“I don’t expect Sage to come straight home either, he sometimes has adventures on the way. He has a phone and if he’s not home an hour after school finishes I start to wonder where he is and he walks in.”
Melissa McEwen’s sons, Sebastian (14) and Jude (12), have both been riding to school since they started high school. Their younger brother Zachary (10) walks to school every day.
Like Sean and Zoe, Melissa has been riding with her kids since they were very small. As any parent knows, young children copy what they see their parents doing – and research has shown that one way to get more kids riding bikes is for parents to take the lead.
“We started riding when we moved to Turner when Zachary was a baby. We rode the boys to childcare most days at ANU. It was often a convoy effort with the two smallest in a bike trailer and the eldest on a trailing bike.”
Sebastian and Jude prefer riding to school because it saves them time, and Melissa explains, “It gives them a sense of independence and an ability to do their own thing with their friends”.
“Life is so much easier when your children can transport themselves,” says Melissa.
“Being able to ride means that there is more time in the morning before the boys need to leave and there is also less organisation needed.
“The sense of independence and self-reliance they get from being their own mode of transportation feeds into other parts of their lives – they know that they don’t have to look to us for everything.
“There is nothing better than having children who are resourceful and self-reliant, and being in control of their own ‘vehicle’ really adds to that.”
Being active with your kids when they are young sets them up to be active throughout their whole lives. So why wouldn’t you encourage them to ride or walk to school?
Children who cycle to school experience a range of benefits, including:
- exercise and decreased incidence of physical health problems
- improved mental health and more social connections
- enhanced IQ and ability to learn
- freedom and independent movement
The community also reaps the benefits from getting children on their bikes. These include:
- fewer chauffeur duties for parents
- less traffic on the roads
- less pollution
- a friendlier civic environment
Ride Safe To School Week runs from Mon 31 Oct 2016 – Fri 4 Nov 2016. It has been developed to encourage kids to ride to school, while reinforcing safety messages around cycling.
If you are looking for a way to get your 11-15 year old on their bike, Active Rides is an after-school program designed to encourage kids to develop cycling skills in a fun environment.