Last week Annie (new bike education intern), Elizabeth (Livable Memphis program coordinator), and I conducted a bicycle rodeo through Camp Congo, a week long summer camp help by First Congregational Church for about 17 campers ages 4-10. A bicycle rodeo is an organized program where kids are taught about bike safety, bike maintenance, and why biking is important using techniques that are as fun as they are informative.
On the first day campers visited Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop where they learned about why biking is important, the importance of good bicycle maintenance, and some of the basic bicycle safety rules.
Tuesday, the kids got out on the bikes. They were split into two groups based on their height. They practiced coming up to an intersection (which we drew in chalk on the parking lot surface) and had to practice their hand signals for turning. We did not have them go in the street yet because we wanted them to first master staying to the right and using their hand signals. This activity was important because many children think to ride either in the middle of the street or towards the left with traffic. This allowed them to try it out for themselves and be corrected without having the risk of getting hurt. It also taught them how to stop the bicycle by using their brakes, not their feet. Each kid went through this activity about 4 times. While one group was practicing turning and hand signals, the other group practiced bicycling, trying to stay inside two narrowly drawn lines, and looking behind them in order to practice looking for cars or other cyclists. The two groups switched halfway through the rodeo to test their skills at the other safety station.
About three of the kids had no idea how to ride a bike. They were in their own group and practiced balancing on bikes without any pedals. One of the three children that did not know how to ride a bike quickly mastered his balance and was joining in the safety exercises by the end of the week. The other two progressed a tremendous amount and we encouraged them to keep trying at home, setting goals for themselves.
Wednesday, the kids practiced weaving in and out of cones. This is good practice in case there are rocks in the road, sewer grates, or dips in the concrete. We also set up a “slow race.” At first, this concept is hard for kids to understand, but it teaches them about balance- they have to ride as slowly as possible without putting their feet on the ground, and the last person to cross the finish line wins the race.
Thursday, we sent the kids out in the street! We used the quiet street next to the church and had kids practice what they learned on Tuesday. They would bike up to the stop sign, slow down with their brakes, stop, look both ways, use their hand signal, and then turn. During this, we had assistants with the group of kids, at the stop sign, and up the street to guide them back to the parking lot. If the kid forgot to do something, like looking both ways before crossing, the assistant would remind them to look both ways and explain to them why it was important.
On the last day we were inside and had the kids draw some Do’s and Don’ts of bicycle safety. We had them draw the right way to stop and the wrong way to stop and had them show their peers what they drew and explain their drawings. This worked as a reminder to the kids of how to conduct themselves on bicycles in the street. Explaining their drawings allowed the other kids in the group to listen to that person’s interpretation of how to bike in the streets.
The importance of all of these bicycle safety exercises is that simply giving a child a helmet will not ensure their safety. Real bicycle safety begins with knowing what side of the road to bike on, how to use proper hand signals, and how to balance on a bike, among other things. What this program begins to instill is the importance of proper bicycle handling skills combined with a working knowledge of the rules and responsibilities that cyclists must adhere to.
The bike rodeo was a huge success and the conversation at the end of the week reflected that the children had learned a lot. If you are interested in hosting a children’s bicycle rodeo, please contact Kyle Wagenschutz (email@example.com) for details and scheduling.