“Wow, this kid-powered commuting thing sounds fun and I’d love to get something going at our school. But how do I start?”
Recently, a lot of folks have been asking about how to start a walking or biking program at their school. Literally, what is the first step?
Starting a new program in a school that doesn’t have a walk/bike culture can seem a little daunting. Even more so if you’re new to the school, say a kindergarten or 6th grade parent in your first year there.
In one sense, there’s no simple answer. There are as many ways to start a program as there are parents and staff who are interested in doing so. But in another sense, it’s very simple: just start!
Really there’s no wrong approach, and any steps you take to begin walking or biking yourself, or to promote kid-powered commuting to other families, can work.
Walking as a group is easy and fun!
A few ideas that have worked for others:
Start small. Beginning a program with a big spashy event is fine, but it’s also perfectly okay to begin by getting a few friends and neighbors together and beginning to walk or bike. It doesn’t need to be formal, advertised, or anything else unless you want to. Are you a walking school bus? A bike train? Maybe… or it’s fine if you are just some friends walking or riding to school together.
Talk it up. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful. Drop off and pickup times at elementary schools are great opportunities to talk with other parents about what you have in mind, meet other folks with similar interests in kid-powered commuting, and to begin to grow a community of walkers and bikers at your school.
Walk the talk. Or bike the talk if that suits you better! Just showing up day after day with kids who have gotten to school under their own power is a fun and infectious way to drum up interest.
Make it fun. Honestly it’s hard not to. Kids and parents seem to find walking or biking more fun than other commuting modes. Especially once you link up with other friends and neighbors and begin to build some community around it. Sometimes parents just need a little encouragement to give it a try. As you begin to grow a program, incorporating some treats or trinkets or stickers into the mix is helpful too.
Connect with other parents. Ultimately it’s easier to create and grow a program with a team. It’s a lot more fun too. Connect through word-of-mouth. Or advertise in the school newsletter. Host an info table at curriculum night or another school event. Once you get a team going, you’ll be unstoppable.
Partner with a teacher. If you can find a teacher or two who are genuinely interested in this, it is incredibly helpful. There’s nothing quite as inspiring for kids as a teacher who parks their bike in the corner of the classroom each day and encourages students to give it a try. At some schools, this is a natural as there might be a teacher or two who are already excited about getting kids walking or biking, and they just need some parents to work with. At other schools you’ll need to do more work to find a teacher or two to recruit as partners. Ask around. Talk to parents and teachers and staff to find good candidates. Often the PE teacher is a good bet: talk to her and get her excited about walking and biking.
Paper the neighborhood.
By foot or bike of course!
Get the administration and PTSA on board.You don’t have to; in fact a lot can be accomplished without any formal school involvement. But ultimately getting the principal or other key administrators to help promote the program is a powerful tool, and Seattle schools need more administrators stepping up to do this to re-shape our commute patterns. Same with the PTSA; you can work outside of that structure, but ultimately they can be helpful for advertising, fundraising, managing a grant, etc. This can be as easy as setting up a meeting with the principal (they work for you, don’t they?) or presenting at a PTSA board meeting.
Take it to the next level and plan an event. You don’t need to start with a month or year of walking or biking events, though that is a worthy longer term goal. It might be easiest to pick one day, assemble a team to help with planning and day-of activities, advertise in a few obvious places, and go for it! If it turns out to be a big hit, fantastic! If it turns out you get a handful of families to participate the first time, that’s awesome too as you can grow from there.
Good old fashioned posters work wonders. IWalk and other templates make it easy.
Keep at it. One event — small or large — can lead to another. And once you have a few families on board the creative juices will start to flow. With some persistence, you’ll grow a movement at your school before you know it.
Be patient. It’s okay if it takes a while to really get things going. And if you’re new to a school, part of the trick is getting to know the lay of the land — PTSA, administration, other parents and families. So take your time but be persistent. Regardless, it’ll be a fun ride! There’s nothing quite as rewarding as walking or biking with a bunch of kids getting there on their own power.
Good luck… It’s a great time to begin!