Biking to School By Themselves

Millet-Bikeby Michelle Millet

In August, with my daughter entering sixth grade and my son entering third, I decided this would be the year my kids started to make the bike ride from our house in South Davis to Birch Lane Elementary School, all on their own.

A neighbor, learning about my plan, asked if his daughter, a fourth-grader, could ride with them. Great, I said, and we made plans for the kids to meet on the bike path at 8 a.m. every day.

Not being a “morning person,” and I don’t use make this claim lightly, I consider having to wake up anytime before 10 a.m. early, I was excited about the idea of not having to ride with my kids at this outrageously early hour.

I was also happy with the prospect of avoiding the before-school traffic congestion I faced on the days when I was unable to get them out the door in time to ride bikes, which, to be completely honest, happened more often than not, despite my regular resolutions that this was going to be the week, the month, the year, that we rode to school more often than we drove.

While I looked forward to waving goodbye to them every morning from the comfort of my house, rather than the front seat of my minivan, I did brace myself for the complaints I assumed would start coming about having to ride their bikes instead of being driven, which generally followed my past attempts to make this our regular mode of transportation to and from school.

Little did I know, when this plan was hatched, how wrong I was about this, and how much better my life, specifically my mornings, were about to get.

It started a few days after my kids began to ride to school without me. (I rode with them the first week, drilling them about the route I wanted them to take and potential hazards they might face along the way.) Before my eyes, which ultimately would get to remain closed, my kids, who use to have to be nagged to do everything in the morning — from putting on their shoes to packing their backpacks — became completely self-reliant.

My daughter took on the responsibility of waking up my son. They started making their own breakfast, they packed their lunches, they found their own shoes and they put them on without having to be asked. And, most amazingly, they did something I was never able to do: They got themselves ready and out the door at 8 a.m. every day, all on their own.

It was a morning in early September when I realized how different my life was going to be from here on out. I woke at 7:45 to the sound of my daughter yelling to her brother, “Drew you need to wake up, we have to be ready in 15 minutes.” I pulled the covers in tight, figuring I’d enjoy the last few minutes in bed before my kids stampeded into my room with frantic requests for help getting ready, while planning the text I soon would be sending to my neighbor, letting him know that we overslept and were going to have to drive today.

To my surprise, my door never opened. I listened, from the comfort of my bed, to the sound of the water running in the bathroom, to feet running down the stairs, to the cupboard door opening and closing, and lastly to the sound of the garage door opening.

As I heard my kids’ voices while they exited out our back gate, I looked at the clock: It was 7:58. They had gotten themselves ready for school in 13 minutes, all on their own.

It is now mid-October, and I’m the most well-rested I’ve been in my entire life. With the exception of picture day (my daughter, not wanting the hairstyle she worked so hard on messed up, asked me to drive her, and I, accepting the fact that I was now the parent of a tween, agreed to do so), my kids have ridden their bikes to school every day, without complaint.

I was aware of the environmental, health and educational benefits that came along with the decision to have my kids ride to school this year instead of driving them. (Kids who exercise before school learn better.)

What I was unaware of was the self-reliance and self-confidence this act of independence would foster in them. And as much I’m enjoying staying up late to watch my favorite shows, I’m sleeping more soundly in the morning with the knowledge that my kids have the confidence and self-assurance to know they can face some of the challenges life will throw at them, all on their own.

About The Author

Michelle Millet is a 25-year resident of Davis. She currently serves as the Chair of the Natural Resource Commission.

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30 Comments

    1. Michelle Millet

      Thank you. I hope it leads to getting more kids out there on their bikes. Riding to school on their own really has fostered an independence and self-reliance in mine, which is reflected in many different areas of their lives. Its been wonderful to watch their self confidence grow. (and sleeping in is nice as well).

      1. Jim Frame

        My son has ridden his bike to school nearly every day since kindergarten.  We let him ride with friends (no parents) starting in 4th grade, though they only had to cross 2 major streets (one controlled by a traffic signal), so not as daunting a trek as going from South Davis to Birch.

        He’s now a high school senior, and very independent in many ways.  But getting up in the morning?  Forget it!  I have to drag him out of bed every day.  And he’s probably late to first period more often than not.

        Every kid is different…

  1. darelldd

    Woot! David, welcome to the wonderful reality that so many modern parents try so diligently to avoid: Creating self-sufficient, healthy kids. Parents do not rob their children of these benefits on purpose, of course – they drive their kids to school for a sense of “safety” that only an automobile seems to offer these days. I can’t count the number of times that I have heard “car congestion around the school” cited for the reason that a child is not allowed to bike to school. So what are parents to do in order to ensure the kid’s safety? Drive her to school, naturally.

    The few studies that have been done on the subject of transportation to grade school have come to the same conclusion: Kids who arrive at school via  human power do better in school. And just as you have discovered – they tend to get to school on time and without as much stress. At least more often than when a harried parent is in charge of departure time.

    What a great article. It speaks to so many things that we take for granted (and get wrong) about our kids. Now it’s time to fit racks (so they don’t need to carry a heavy backpack on their backs) and fenders… if they don’t already have them. Get yourself some adhesive retro-reflective tape and have your kids go crazy all over the bikes. (reflective tape doesn’t get broken or stolen, doesn’t require any batteries and is always there to make the bike more visible to approaching cars at night).

    1. hpierce

      darell… tho’ I may disagree with you on many bicycle issues, I’m thinking you and I are of one mind on this, as you wrote, ” I can’t count the number of times that I have heard “car congestion around the school” cited for the reason that a child is not allowed to bike to school. So what are parents to do in order to ensure the kid’s safety? Drive her to school, naturally.”

      Classic one I’m familiar with is Holmes.  Traffic on L is low EXCEPT WHEN EVERYONE IS DRIVING THEIR KIDS TO SCHOOL BECAUSE OF THE HEAVY CAR TRAFFIC!  Always reminds me of Walt Kelly/Pogo, and the iconic, ‘We have met the enemy, and it is US’.

      1st Grade to 6th, I rode my bike or walked to school unless the rain was heavy.  95% of the kids at my elementary school did the same.  Some of the 5th and 6th graders served as ‘school safety patrol’ members at the intersections immediately adjacent to the school.  We ‘controlled’ the fellow students, NOT the traffic.  Worked great.  In HS, I had school bus to, but walked the 2 miles home (also not a morning person).

      Our kids walked or biked to school sometimes accompanied (particularly initially, while we vetted their behavior/judgment) often not.  Thru JHS.  Then in HS, once they could legally drive, (we were a two-income couple), and we sometimes ‘caved’ and permitted them to drive.

      Today, in Davis, if every parent pushed/modelled/inculcated their kids to walk/bike, (responsibly, knowing best routes and traffic awareness) there would only be a handful of locations where x-ing guard would be warranted.  And, it would be safe, as all the helicopter etc parents wouldn’t have their cars around the school sites.

      Michelle… THANK YOU for this!

       

      1. Michelle Millet

        Your welcome;-). This was actually a fun piece to write, I think it helps that I’m so well rested.

        The city, the school district, and citizens volunteers in Davis do a lot to promote safe routes to school, we are a lot better off then most communities.

        My kids can get from South Davis to Birch Lane, which is on the other side of I-80, with only one major surface street crossing. (The go over the freeway, and can go under 5th and under Loyola).

        There is a big map at our school that highlights the safest route for kids to take, and there are parent volunteers that scan kids in when they arrive to school, sending a text to parents letting them know their child got their safely.

        Knowing that a friend is waiting for them, has definitely added a level of accountability that my kids have responded positively too. Somehow promoting kids riding together, maybe some kind of facilitation by school site/PTA’s to help kids connect would be a useful step in getting more kids riding/biking to school.

        I’m grateful for the foresight of past leaders and planners, that clearly prioritized bike safety when designing our greenbelts resulting in fabulous bike connectivity through out our town, AND I’m grateful to all the volunteers (sometimes know by the apparently evil term “bike advocates”) who work to keep Davis a bike friendly community.

         

        1. darelldd

          >> I think it helps that I’m so well rested.

          Yeah, about that….

          I read and replied before coffee, right after my kid rode off in the direction of school.

          Unlike you, I still DO get up with my bicycle-riding student every morning. And for High School, that now means 6:15 alarm. Ug. So there’s my excuse for crediting David with the article. My bad!

          Why do I still get up with my kid? Because after she rides to school and back, she then rides to gymnastics workout, and that hour in the morning is the last time I see her until 8:30 at night when immediately after dinner she gets mired in homework. There aren’t too many more years left that she’ll still be my kid.

      2. darelldd

        Awesome. Thanks hpierce. I know we don’t agree on several things. But in the end I do believe that we both want the same thing, so I’m all good with it. All I ask of anybody is that they pay attention, and that they care. They don’t need to agree that I’m always correct.  🙂

  2. PhilColeman

    If this contributes to further discussion and possible consensus on kids going to school, permit me to tell you that this topic has historically been a point of discussion within the leadership of the Davis Bike Club. We are pro-cycling, of course, and support any effort that gets more people on bikes, age not being a barrier.

    And as someone who is soon to be elevated into a very high position of executive leadership in the Davis Bike Club, I prematurely commit the full energies and enormous talents of the DBC Membership in promoting this notion to fruition.

     

  3. Davis Progressive

    there are lot of issues that this piece raises.

    first, the need to bike rather than get driven to school

    second, the need for safe routes to school, which is a big point of emphasis with the school district

    third, the issue of whether small children are safe riding alone.

    1. Anon

      DP: “third, the issue of whether small children are safe riding alone.

      Bingo!  I would urge that young children bike or walk at least in pairs, rather than travel alone.  There is safety in numbers.  

      See: http://www.saferoutesinfo.org/program-tools/what-age-can-children-walk-school-themselves

      https://walksitka.wordpress.com/tag/international-walk-or-bike-to-school-day/

      https://www.life360.com/blog/kids-walking-to-school-alone-could-be-illegal/

      And from the Nat’l Highway Safety & Transportation Administration: http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/pedbimot/bike/Safe-Routes-2002/forms.html

      “Guidelines for Parents:

      GROUP CHILDREN along school routes for better visibility and driver awareness. When larger numbers cross together it makes motorists more aware of kids crossing, increases driver compliance with stopping for crosswalks, and helps justify the installation of more extensive crossing protection devices. Look for adequate shoulder or sidewalk areas to provide refuge.

      Children are not small adults. They often act before thinking and may not do what parents or drivers expect. They assume that if they see the driver, the driver sees them. They have one-third narrower side vision, can’t judge speed and are less able to determine the direction of sounds. They are shorter than adults and can’t see over cars, bushes and other objects. (NHTSA)”

      1. Anon

        By the way, I used to walk 2 miles one way to elementary school every day – but in groups.  Older bullies would try and bother us, but couldn’t do to much when it came to a group of young children.

    2. Michelle Millet

      The pervasive idea that seems to have spread through out our society that kids are not safe out in the world alone is one of the biggest barriers facing those who wish to foster independence and self reliance in our children. While I did not directly address this in my piece, an underlying message I was trying to get across, and I’m glad I did, is that its ok, and beneficial, to send kids out into the world by themselves sometimes.

      1. Topcat

        The pervasive idea that seems to have spread through out our society that kids are not safe out in the world alone is one of the biggest barriers facing those who wish to foster independence and self reliance in our children.

        Yes, things certainly are different from when I was a little Topcat back in the “dark ages”.  I walked or rode my bike to school from first grade all the way through high school.  I navigated busy city streets and intersections and had to deal with heavy traffic in places (this was not in Davis).  I have a hard time understanding why today’s parents are so fearful of allowing their kids to develop a little bit of independence and self reliance.

      2. hpierce

        Yeah.  If we send them out as children, they will hopefully live to be adults, and will have children themselves.  Darwin got this right.  We DO need to educate them, giving them the benefit of our own successes and failures, and our values.  They will choose their own, right or wrong, and I am reminded of a song, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztVaqZajq-I.  I was not the “perfect child” .my parents may have hoped for.  Nor were mine.  But we have all survived, and done pretty well.  Challenges remain.

  4. Scheney

    Growing up in Davis, I rode my bike to school starting in kindergarten.  We had 100 school age children living on Elmwood Drive – nearly all rode their bikes or walked to school.  I only knew of one family that drove their children to school.  These kids were viewed by the rest of neighborhood kids as completely spoiled and wimpy.  When I moved back to Davis with my children in the early 90’s, my 5th grade daughter immediately started riding her bike to school, because that was what I remember the way it was in Davis.  She loved the independence, controlling the time she left and not having to wait for me and her younger brother.   My kindergarten son had to wait one year to start due to parental signing in and out requirements of CDC daycare.  When I was a kid, we didn’t have to deal with the mass of cars at the school.   With my kids, I had to help them find the safest way to approach the school and avoid drivers who were in a hurry and wanted to drop their children at the school’s doorstep.  The danger wasn’t the route on the way to school.  The danger was at the school itself.  If drivers were made to drop their kids off at locations away from the front of the school and have them walk the last 100 yards, then it would be safer for all children, I think, and more would be encouraged to bike/walk.  Bikers and walkers should be released first at the end of the school day, so they can leave the campus before the driver pick up confusion starts.

    1. hpierce

      “Bikers and walkers should be released first at the end of the school day, so they can leave the campus before the driver pick up confusion starts.”  I like!… doesn’t help with the morning rush, tho’…

      1. Michelle Millet

        Morning tends to be the problem. Afternoon dismissals are staggered, most Kinder’s get out at 11:50, 1st-3rd  at 2:35 PM, and 4th-6th 3:05 PM, plus a lot of kids go to onsite after school care. But everyone starts at 8:30…..

  5. Alan Miller

    Michelle,

    Great article, and thanks for the courage to let your kids grow up.  I fully support parenting such as you are doing; I am shocked at what passes for parenting today, and at the lines of cars at schools.  You can’t shield kids and expect them to grow up.  I say this as someone who has had several friends hit by cars on bikes, and as someone from a family that experienced a devastating stranger crime against a sibling.  Terrible things can happen.  However, shielding children from reality and life is no solution.

    1. Michelle Millet

      A great website, that in it’s own words, ” fights the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.”

      http://www.freerangekids.com

       

  6. Anon

    I will repeat, altho I can see it is going to fall on deaf ears:

    From the Nat’l Highway Safety & Transportation Administration: http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/pedbimot/bike/Safe-Routes-2002/forms.html

    “Guidelines for Parents:

    GROUP CHILDREN along school routes for better visibility and driver awareness. When larger numbers cross together it makes motorists more aware of kids crossing, increases driver compliance with stopping for crosswalks, and helps justify the installation of more extensive crossing protection devices. Look for adequate shoulder or sidewalk areas to provide refuge.

    Children are not small adults. They often act before thinking and may not do what parents or drivers expect. They assume that if they see the driver, the driver sees them. They have one-third narrower side vision, can’t judge speed and are less able to determine the direction of sounds. They are shorter than adults and can’t see over cars, bushes and other objects. (NHTSA)”

    1. ryankelly

      I think most of the routes to our schools can be found are on bike paths and greenbelts, and residential streets off of main arteries.  If enough children are all biking toward schools at the same time, the need to organize groups becomes unnecessary.  Teaching children how to cross safely at intersections, stop and look at stop signs, etc. is also needed.

      1. Anon

        If there are plenty of kids going a certain route, I’m good with that, altho they still need to be trained, as you say, in how to cross safely.  But you would be shocked at how many lone kids travel in isolated areas…

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