Zuhura Plummer writes for Cyclox on why cycling to school can be good for school children.
AS we start a new school term, it’s brilliant time to get the kids biking to school.
‘I save about two hours in a day!’ an Oxford mum tells me, when I ask how she feels about the change in the way her kids get to school. Samita’s girls have learnt to cycle; so can now go to school without her.
That saves her a huge 10 hours a week of school run time, which means she’s working more instead, and as a single mum this has been transformative.
‘I don’t know what I would be doing now, if I didn’t have that extra bit of money coming in,’ she adds.
‘And I’m saving petrol from the four journeys a day which I’m not doing. I honestly say the school streets volunteers who taught my girls are angels! I didn’t think that when I first met them though! I thought it was a total pain – why were they making my life so much harder? But now the girls are in the habit of cycling, I wouldn’t change it for the world.’
Her youngest, Soraya, who is seven, was taught to ride a bike off road, by School Streets volunteers at St Ebbes. When she could manage cycling well, she was taught a route from her house to the school. She negotiates this ten-minute bike ride from home, near Donnington Bridge, carefully and competently. Cycling alongside some other kids and one parent, they use the crossing on the Abingdon Road and then take quieter back streets the rest of the way.
As I cycle close behind her one wintery evening, with her lights and little helmet shining brightly, I notice how she recognises give way lines, road signs and junctions.
Samita continues: ‘Soraya knows what is going on – she looks around, she’s cautious, and she’s really good at riding. I feel like she is better off knowing how cars and streets work. Loads of kids now don’t have a clue and then suddenly are allowed out as teenagers and they don’t know a thing because they’ve been taken in the car every day.’
I’m inclined to agree; it’s a huge benefit to kids to learn and practise the basics of road safety. It’s all very well being taught, but actually doing it – supervised until needed – brings another level of understanding that they’ll have for life.
Three quarters of kids biked or walked to school in 1975, but now only half do.
This adds up to a lot of young adults who have been ferried around and so will have less intuition and spatial awareness when negotiating traffic, and life in general.
Cycling to school is a bit of a silver bullet for kids – they move and exercise, it’s time when they can’t be in front of a screen, they see nature and the seasons changing, and they interact with people and their friends, forming social skills.
They arrive at school better able to concentrate and learn, and the benefit of getting there actively is even more pronounced in kids with extra needs.
according to one study a 20-minute walk works wonders for kids with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
The biggest barrier to more children cycling or walking to school is the combination of parents not having time to go with them, but the fear of cars hitting them if they go alone.
For this reason, we need a range of policies and lots of support to help bring about quieter roads – traffic free for those who need to drive; but safer, nicer and less polluted for the many of us who can change to walking, cycling or getting the bus.
It might seem like a bit more effort at first, but like for Soraya and her mum, there might be some unexpected benefits.
This story was written by Andy Ffrench, he joined the team more than 20 years ago and now covers community news across Oxfordshire.
Get in touch with him by emailing: Andy.email@example.com
Follow him on Twitter @OxMailAndyF
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