If you know me, you know I am in LOVE with bicycles and kids—actually, any wheeled vehicle that kids can spin around on and be mobile. Bicycles, scooters, unicycles all have wheels. And when you learn to ride, all have fun, freedom, and serve as a functional way for students and families to move aerobically, outside of the school day. The benefits are never ending, giving our students and families the confidence and competence to be life-long movers of physical literacy. Before I share some of my experiences, let’s get to the nuts and bolts.
Walk to School Day and Bike to School Day
The Safe Routes to School National Center is the coordinating organization for Walk to School Day every October and Bike to School Day held each May. These events are used to encourage families to celebrate the benefits of walking and biking and to increase local leader commitment and visibility for traffic safety and community quality of life. Each year, these events break records for participation. Most event coordinators report that their events led to changes to policies or the physical environment—the kinds of changes needed to support safe walking and biking every day, not just for special events. Visit the National Walk and Bike to School website to learn more, register an event, or see schools already participating. More information can also be found here. I recommend Googling your state and safe routes to school, here’s mine for Massachusetts. By finding your own state, you can find your state coordinator and start the process of finding out what is available in your state.
Once fueled with the knowledge of what your state organization can do to help you (publicity, signs, et.c), I’d speak to your principal with an A/B/C plan. Involve your PTA and parents, volunteers, faculty, and staff once you get the “GO” from your administration!
I’ve been fortunate to teach in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Washington. Here’s what I’ve done in the past:
I loved biking with kids so much in the 90’s that I started my own bike adventure camp in Nantucket, MA. This program provided many years of year-round fun for many of my students. In a traditional adventure-based program, we biked all over the island, with a different destination every day. I’m happy to say that the original crew now has graduated from high school, college, and some are even working in careers with bicycles. All give back to the community by riding in fundraising events, still “married” to their love of Cannondale and TREK bicycles (thanks to Young’s Bicycle Shop in Nantucket). Today, it’s still hands down one of the best ventures I have even done on my bucket list, besides teaching!
My last Massachusetts school had a very active PTA that planned and provided volunteers for the events. I just supplied the fun and bling (stickers, bracelets, reflectors, etc.). I recently moved back to Massachusetts from two years in Seattle, so I am busy planning an event for the spring, just getting my feet wet in the new school year in an amazing school. I can’t wait to see what the Spring will bring for my students and biking, rolling, and hiking!
In Vermont, biking, hiking, and walking is REALLY big! While teaching in South Strafford, VT, we celebrated Walk and Bike to School in the spring (sometimes it will snow in October in Vermont). More than half of our school (K-8) would meet in the town center and bike over to school together (5 miles away). For those students that could not bike, the buses would drop them off at the town parking lot a mile away from school and the whole community would walk to school together. Parents and families would donate healthy snacks and breakfast items, and we would have a school meeting to celebrate the event outside. Our PTA was an amazing help, as was the bus company, faculty, and staff. Vermont also had an amazing Safe Routes to School coordinator that held workshops and helped you secure whatever you needed to run your event.
I just got back from two years of teaching in Seattle, WA under the direction of Lori Dunn, Health and Physical Literacy Coordinator for Seattle Public Schools.
Lori too is big on opportunity for kids, so of course this meant an amazing partnership with Cascade Bicycle, a local nonprofit bike organization. Every year, elementary PE teachers in Seattle are fortunate to do a bicycle safety unit for two weeks. Cascade drops off a trailer filled with bikes, helmets, safety signs, and a curriculum to teach grades 3-5. But that’s not all.
Cascade has partnered with a local adapted biking nonprofit, so we could order bikes for ALL our students. Two-wheel bikes, four-wheel bikes, hand crank bikes, balance bikes! Biking is huge in Seattle, so therefore kids LOVE to bike and roll! There was a countdown from many of the students until the bike unit.
One colleague in the district knew of my love of biking and rolling and allowed me to borrow a classroom set of scooters my first year, and then helped me secure a set of scooters for my students to use after our bike unit. I’m all about equality, so this was a great way to involve K, 1st, and 2nd graders. The local bike shop, Bike Works, helped me secure a donation of helmets from one of the local health insurance providers, and we were golden! Bike Works also got many of my students involved in their summer camps and year-round programs, for which I was very thankful. We had a bike unit and an active PTA that helped with walking and biking to school days!
What’s next? Skateboards. I started this love of body powered active transportation as a child, my twin brother and I biked or skateboarded everywhere. Oh, and yes, make friends with my local Safe Routes to School Coordinator.
Questions? Please ask. I am happy to help you in your active transportation journey with your students. But watch out, it’s catchy!
Betsey Caldwell is a K-5 Physical Education Teacher at General John Nixon Elementary School in Sudbury, Massachusetts. Betsey is a proud graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Physical Education Teacher Education program and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Health and Physical Education at Central Washington University. Betsey is the former President of Vermont AHPERD and has served her profession since a student on committees and boards in elected and appointed positions.