BLOG: How cycling can help with school readiness

Liane Kelly is a reception teacher at Manor Lodge Primary School in Sheffield. She blogs about how her school is using HSBC UK's new Ready Set Ride programme in partnership with British Cycling

Cycling is something I have always enjoyed doing as a child and recently reconnected with. It gives children a great sense of freedom and is a lifelong skill that can be beneficial for a number of reasons.

As a teacher in Sheffield, I think cycling is really important to learn not only for the physical benefits like reducing obesity and for stress levels, but to boost children’s emotional and mental health. Learning to cycle can also have a huge influence on developing school readiness and young people's ability to learn.

Teachers are not confident to support children to cycle

New research from children’s charity the Youth Sport Trust has found that 43% of teachers say they do not have the skills or confidence to support children learning to ride.

Many might ask why it is a teachers’ role to teach children to ride, but as one of the 43% who was not confident in how to teach children to cycle, it was something I desperately wanted to change and make my responsibility. The skills and experiences that children develop while learning to cycle can be hugely beneficial to schools in helping to tackle declining school readiness, improving their ability to learn and ensuring children maintain a love of cycling for life, becoming a fitter generation.

Many children do not get the opportunity to learn to ride a bike at home and this is something we must support parents with, particularly as schools are currently tasked with delivering 30 active minutes in school and encouraging a further 30 minutes outside of school, to help children meet the Chief Medical Officer guidelines of 60 mins a day The benefits and opportunities it creates for them can be lifechanging.

Through a new programme that is free for groups of schools and easy to use, I have been able to introduce HSBC UK Ready Set Ride at Manor Lodge. Teaching children to ride is a daunting prospect. You have to consider health and safety regulations, best practice and how the skills taught now will be used for life. Before having access to free training and resources, I hadn’t had a great deal of experience teaching children to cycle but I now feel much more confident.  

Cycling is something I think all children should learn to do as early as possible to improve their confidence and prevent children from falling behind when it comes to developing physical literacy and fundamental movement skills, which has a knock-on effect on their likelihood to continue being active in later years. It is important to encourage participation and try to improve children’s love for cycling so they continue to do it into adulthood and throughout their life.

At our school, we have worked with the Youth Sport Trust and Links School Sports Partnership to deliver the programme to children in different year groups.

It is fantastic to see them really enjoying taking part in the activities. It has improved participation in physical activity and inspired children to become more active outside of school. We have seen groups of children start to cycle to and from school and hopefully, we have enthused children about cycling for life.  

Cycling helps children focus in class

As well as boosting their confidence and familiarity of the different parts of a bike, we are starting to see a positive impact on our pupils’ focus, concentration and behaviour in the classroom. Children have had the opportunity to burn off their energy which means they are more focussed in class on their learning. Teachers have commented on how children have improved their memory as they seem more able to concentrate, and we have also seen an improvement in pupils’ response time when completing independent tasks.

Encouraging parents to be part of the journey

While it is really encouraging as a teacher to see how we can set children up and get them excited about cycling for life, I know how important it is for parents to be part of the journey. Latest research shows that less than half of mothers across the country (45%) have rode a bike in the past year, yet 74% of all parents believe cycling is an essential life skill.

Both parents and teachers are important role models for children. I have a son aged four and I think this new tool is a great way to help him learn how to ride his first bike. There's a lot of pressure on modern parents but this is an online tool that is really easy to access and provides clear guidance for teachers and parents who may not be very confident at teaching children to cycle and clearly states how to progress children further.

Physical literacy is crucial to inclusivity

Physical literacy offers a whole range of benefits and is vital in preparing children with key skills that will help them when they start school. Being physically literate is an important part of life, developing a child’s physical literacy starts with developing fundamental movement skills and providing them with opportunities to problem solve, communicate and work with others. This can be everything from building cognitive skills to know how to tie their shoelaces, write, and develop fine motor skills used in building core strength to sit up straight in class. The journey in to developing physical literacy starts at birth and continues through adult life. We have seen the difference the programme is making to our pupils. We have children from all walks of life that attend our school. From children who have English as an additional language to children who have physical and emotional difficulties - but physical literacy gives all children the opportunity to feel included.

By doing the fun games and tasks from HSBC UK Ready Set Ride that build physical literacy to give children these key motor and cognitive skills that will help them in later life, they now have more confidence to tackle tasks that seemed unachievable before. Some children could not even mount a bike correctly before starting Ready Set Ride but now they can pedal safely on a bike. It has had a massive impact on their self-confidence as they feel they can now overcome obstacles and barriers that they were once too afraid to try.

Take action

I don’t think enough emphasis can be put on the skills and experiences that children learn while learning to cycle. We must tackle declining school readiness, and equip schools and young people with innovative approaches to develop skills and improve learning and I truly believe this programme can be part of the solution. It is a perfect complement to the Department for Transport funded Bikeability scheme which ensures that once children are able to ride they are equipped to cycle safely. 

For more information about HSBC UK Ready Set Ride and how schools can apply for further free training from children’s charity the Youth Sport Trust visit Schools can purchase resources to support them in delivering the programme here.

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