Next week on Friday, 22nd March is National Ride2School Day. Launched six years ago in 2007 by Bicycle Network Australia, the day is aimed at encouraging as many school children as possible to enjoy the benefits of physical exercise by making their way to school under their own steam either by biking, scooting or walking.
Riding to school either on a bicycle or pony, or just plain walking, used to be the norm for most Australian children in days gone by. You only have to read our editor, Pete’s popular “A Chat With…” column, recounting the earlier lives of our older residents to realise just how cushy our modern lives have become.
Growing up over towards Albury in the 1920s and 30s local identity, Edgar Pickles rode a pony with his brother and sister, four and a half miles one-way (7.2km) to the little Morebringer Primary School (between Balldale and Howlong) and later by bicycle, thirteen miles one-way (21km) to the Corowa High School. These days some people would almost consider it child abuse.
While we congratulate ourselves on all our amazing technological advances and inventions designed to make our lives easier, I can’t help thinking we are going backwards in a physical sense. Obesity levels, mental illness and type II diabetes are just a number of symptoms and “lifestyle” diseases that are dramatically on the rise in Australia and other western societies where physical activity has declined and consumption of highly processed and less nutritious food has increased.
The Ride2School Day is aiming to make physically active travel a normal part of the school day for families across the country. Not only will it reduce traffic congestion around schools, the benefits to children are significant. Students who ride or walk to school arrive alert and are more attentive in class. Importantly, the responsibility of getting themselves to school develops essential life skills such as time management, builds confidence and increases resilience within each child.
Today and tomorrow of this week local police lady, Senior Constable Jane, will be visiting Barham Primary School in the lead up to next week’s Ride2School Day. In our somewhat idyllic and slower paced country lifestyle here in Barham/Koondrook, we can become complacent regarding traffic awareness, believing cars and trucks will just stop for us. Jane will be talking with the students and reminding them about the importance of road safety and traffic awareness as well as advising the children on basic bike maintenance, correctly fitting helmets and how they can become responsible road users.
Many children today have far less freedom and therefore, less responsibility than previous generations. We bubble wrap our children in a misguided effort to keep them safe. We either don’t realise or have forgotten how capable our children actually are. Children need opportunities to grow both physically and mentally; hopping on their bikes and riding to the local park for unsupervised play with other children, is good for them. No matter how well meaning we may be as parents, by chauffeuring our children to and from school when it is within easy walking distance, we are ultimately doing our children a disservice.