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Why would you let your kids ride to school?

By Anne Treasure - 21 October 2016 27

“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. 

What’s Your opinion?


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27 Responses to
Why would you let your kids ride to school?
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Leon Arundell 5:31 pm 27 Oct 16

Maya123 said :

* requires bicycles to have basic equipment like mudguards and secure helmet storage; and”
Why mudguards? I rode my bike to work for over thirty years without needing mudguards. I didn’t ride in mud and the rear pannier stopped the water splashing up. …

[Either you didn’t have a front wheel to throw muddy water back at you, or your lack of mudguards meant that you didn’t cycle in work clothes.]

What do you think “secure helmet storage” would be? I just carried my helmet inside with me, which was easy. I never needed anything more complicated.

[Car and motor cycle manufacturers have provided secure seatbelt/helmet storage for 50 years.]

“* requires manufacturers to provide useful information about … (lack of!) puncture resistance of bicycle tyres.”
Spend more and more resistant tyres are available.

Without industry standard ratings, how can people know which tyres are more puncture resistant? I’ve found some “Marathon” tyre models, for example, to be highly puncture resistant, while others have punctured repeatedly within weeks.

TuggLife 2:48 pm 27 Oct 16

Holden Caulfield said :

TuggLife said :

Holden Caulfield said :

Cynical response: But when will mum get to drive her SUV behemoth??

Oh, as an SUV behemoth driving mum, I can answer that for you!

I drive it straight to work after dropping the kids off, because women are allowed in the workplace these days.

Snarkiness aside, there is a very good reason for the massive mum-mobiles of today – children legally have to be in an approved car seat, in the rear of the vehicle. These child seats are massive, and prams are pretty huge these days too. If you have more than 2 children, the seats will not fit in a regular car, so there isn’t really any option other than a 4WD or a people carrier.

I would love to be zipping around town in a Barina, but I’m stuck with the behemoth for a few more years yet.

So how come my BIL could fit three baby seats in the back of his 2008 model Golf? 🙂

You’re welcome to come around and have a crack, but we couldn’t fit 3 child seats in the back of, variously, our Getz, Falcon or Forester for love nor money, so a behemoth it was. 🙂

Holden Caulfield 12:34 pm 27 Oct 16

TuggLife said :

Holden Caulfield said :

Cynical response: But when will mum get to drive her SUV behemoth??

Oh, as an SUV behemoth driving mum, I can answer that for you!

I drive it straight to work after dropping the kids off, because women are allowed in the workplace these days.

Snarkiness aside, there is a very good reason for the massive mum-mobiles of today – children legally have to be in an approved car seat, in the rear of the vehicle. These child seats are massive, and prams are pretty huge these days too. If you have more than 2 children, the seats will not fit in a regular car, so there isn’t really any option other than a 4WD or a people carrier.

I would love to be zipping around town in a Barina, but I’m stuck with the behemoth for a few more years yet.

So how come my BIL could fit three baby seats in the back of his 2008 model Golf? 🙂

Anne Treasure 10:04 am 27 Oct 16

carnardly said :

but there are also plenty of schools in canberra though that local kids can get to without using roads, bar the crossing at school.

i see a couple of kids riding from the garran/hughes area to curtin primary pretty regularly (the badge on the PE uniform is a dead giveaway).

they are probably 5th or 6th grade, in a bunch of 3 they can help each other and they have fun and they don’t cross ANY roads.

sometimes i see them over near garran primary and other times near the woden drain or going up the greenways to curtin.

if one of them did get a flat, other commuters would generally stop and ask them if they need a hand. there is a support network out there and i’ve fixed more than a dozen kids bikes in my time.

i’m not a child abducter, or a stalker, and having a ‘friendly face’ out there might just save you kid’s bacon out there. next time i see them and say hi, how’s it going.

stranger danger is one thing.

that everyone out there is a paedophile is just wrong.

you need to teach kids they can approach strangers for help when they need it. it doesn’t mean getting in a car with them, but asking for help with their bike, or to use a phone to ring mum.

there are 2 girls that live somewhere in kambah that ride to melrose high. dad started off with them when they started and now they’re capable confident, safe and skilled riders. plus they told me they get the ‘bus ticket’ money as pocket money if they ride. so essentially it’s their choice. i am faster than them but often just slow and have a chat as we cruise along.

they say hi. we talk, we separate, we say bye.

there are also plenty of other people like me out there that keep a genuine eye on the kids.

kids need to be taught how to be safe.

non riders don’t always know what safe riding actually means.

Your comments are very telling about the increased sociability and civic awareness that come with cycling over driving – encouraging kids to be aware of others and helping their social skills is a huge benefit that often goes unrecognised when issues around kids and health come up.

Garfield 8:49 am 25 Oct 16

I remember catching the bus to & from school from time to time in my first year of school. I also remember in early high school riding to school when staying at a friend’s place. They only lived about 8km away while I lived further away so I usually caught the bus from home, but both our sets of parents were happy for us to ride from their place. I also remember dad telling me about getting to school from his childhood home on a farm outside town where he had to walk a fair distance to the bus stop by himself from an early age.

In the context of ACT public high schools I think most students live within easy walking or cycling distance and I think that would also apply to most primary students. Yes parents need to make sure their kids are taught about the dangers of the road, but it seems to me that some parents today are scared to let their kids be independent and learn and grow. It sometimes makes me wonder what sort of adults we’re going to have in the future.

carnardly 11:15 pm 24 Oct 16

but there are also plenty of schools in canberra though that local kids can get to without using roads, bar the crossing at school.

i see a couple of kids riding from the garran/hughes area to curtin primary pretty regularly (the badge on the PE uniform is a dead giveaway). they are probably 5th or 6th grade, in a bunch of 3 they can help each other and they have fun and they don’t cross ANY roads. sometimes i see them over near garran primary and other times near the woden drain or going up the greenways to curtin. if one of them did get a flat, other commuters would generally stop and ask them if they need a hand. there is a support network out there and i’ve fixed more than a dozen kids bikes in my time.

i’m not a child abducter, or a stalker, and having a ‘friendly face’ out there might just save you kid’s bacon out there. next time i see them and say hi, how’s it going. stranger danger is one thing. that everyone out there is a paedophile is just wrong. you need to teach kids they can approach strangers for help when they need it. it doesn’t mean getting in a car with them, but asking for help with their bike, or to use a phone to ring mum.

there are 2 girls that live somewhere in kambah that ride to melrose high. dad started off with them when they started and now they’re capable confident, safe and skilled riders. plus they told me they get the ‘bus ticket’ money as pocket money if they ride. so essentially it’s their choice. i am faster than them but often just slow and have a chat as we cruise along. they say hi. we talk, we separate, we say bye. there are also plenty of other people like me out there that keep a genuine eye on the kids.

kids need to be taught how to be safe. non riders don’t always know what safe riding actually means.

Masquara 8:50 pm 24 Oct 16

OBob said :

Riding is great for kids and they should be encouraged. BUT, children less than 12 are not mentally equipped to handle road traffic. In front of the house on a dead-end street, sure. Our two boys did this when less than 12 and both ran into parked cars. Bang! Nothing serious, thankfully, but it could have been. As a generalisation, kids over 12 can manage light traffic. Practice makes perfect, so training is needed.
By the way, I am a graduate traffic engineer and was the director of the Road User Research section at the Office of Road Safety. I am not guessing about children’s cognitive skills.

I agree. I watched a primary school child in a pink helmet cycling alone in Barton the other day – aged 9 or 10. Pelting along National Circuit with total confidence and incredible speed, crossed Canberra Avenue at the lights, then continued at speed on the footpath. She was going so fast that I lost sight of her as I bumbled along National Circuit myself in my car. All well and good, but the child was NOT looking out for unexpected circumstances – she did not once look left or right, just trusted the lights and the pedestrian crossing. Very dangerous for her parents not to be aware of those cognitive limitations I would think.

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