According to the Department of Transport, over half of primary school children in Ireland live within 1km of school, with two out of three living within 2km. Despite this, the 2016 Census showed that fewer than 2% pupils cycled to school in Ireland.
The number of children cycling to school alone has rapidly decreased over the past few decades, largely because parents worry about traffic danger. But teach them about road safety, and there’s no reason why children can’t enjoy the freedom of cycling. They will develop good habits, and exercise will be part of their daily routine, encouraging them to become healthy adults. Here is a bit of a guidance on how to start your children cycling to school and keeping the habit up.
Cycling to school is great for a child’s freedom, embrace it and help them do so safely
If you cycle yourself, you’ll know the feeling of arriving at work having had a dose of fresh air, time to think, to make that transition between home and work, from sleep to wakefulness, from domestic to the outside world. Even in the rain, it’s never as bad as it seemed once you’re wrapped up in waterproofs.
If you’ve already been riding to school using a child seat or tagalong bike, the kids grow up assuming that’s the normal way to arrive.
- to make sure your child's bike fits and that all your bikes are roadworthy;
- if you're on the road with children, take up a position behind them. If there are two adults in your group, it's a good idea to have one at the back and one in front of the children;
- helmets are particularly recommended for young children. Ultimately, wearing a helmet is a question of individual choice and parents need to make that choice for their children;
- set a good example and teach children road safety and awareness and teach them the rules of the road
Ask the school for bicycle parking
It can be very helpful if the school has a positive attitude towards cycling. Asking the school for a safe place to park the bikes (Sheffield stands are best) and get an instructor in to get the basics covered (check out the CycleRight website).
Things move seamlessly if a parent can commute with their child, drop them off at the school cycle parking and make sure their child’s bike is locked then continue their own journey to work. If it’s not possible to do this every day, once or twice a week is better than nothing.
If there are other children in the family, or the journey to work is unsuitable for cycling, you may have to wait until the last year of primary school. Plan the route with them and practice the ride with them until you’re satisfied that they can cope with morning traffic, arrive safely and lock the bike up securely. A combination lock avoids the problem of lost keys.
Children should be able to ride independently to secondary school, as most schools are less than 5 km from home.
Again, plan and ride the route with your kid. Many people are only familiar with main roads and bus routes, so make sure you find cycle-friendly back roads where possible. There may be a cycle path or cut-through that makes the journey more enjoyable. Is there anyone else they can ride with? You need to be confident that your child can ride confidently and competently – and that they will do so conscientiously, taking into account the needs of other road users. They’re old enough now to have a U-lock with a key so make sure they have it as they leave each morning. It’s handy to keep a spare key in a safe place.
Then you need to let them do it.
Without knowing it, your emerging teenager will be doing something that is good for them and good for the planet.
Remember, this is a good habit they can develop and make them aware of environmental issues as well as becoming active citizens. If you need any pointers, contact CycleRight or the Irish Centre for Cycling in Malahide.