Bicycling to School Can Improve Learning

Last Spring “Bike to School” day took place in our town. I know, it sounds really straightforward and conjures up memories of one’s own childhood when every day was bike to school day. No one ever needed to create an official Bike to School day.

But it wasn’t quite that easy. You see, our county has school choice, and our kids attend the school across town. It takes 35 minutes to bike to this school (12 minutes to drive), and it’s not an excursion our kids can handle alone yet.


It was a brisk, foggy morning, and after a fair amount of grumbling (mostly mine) we rolled out. Once we began pedaling, helmets on, four water bottles in place, and all gear bungied down, my mood rapidly lifted. “Why was I so cranky before? We should do this every day, or okay, at least every other day.”

The kids had rosy cheeks from the chilly morning and hard riding. Upon arrival all were proud and upbeat. After goodbyes, I rode the 35 minutes home reminding myself I’d now had my daily exercise. Full disclosure: I also said to myself that one 35 minute ride also would have been my daily exercise, but I then tried to ignore this thought.

Turns out reducing our carbon footprint isn’t the only advantage of biking to school.  According to Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, the benefits of exercise include:

  • improved alertness and attention
  • increased motivation
  • development of new nerve cells from stem cell in the hippocampus (an area of the brain involved in learning and memory)

However, the author stresses that the physical activity must be of “sufficient duration and intensity” to achieve these positive results. I know there are days when my kids’ PE class would not yield “sufficient exertion.” Picture the standing around that happens while playing kickball.

While people don’t show improved learning during exercise, once blood flow returns to normal, it is an optimal time to “undertake serious thinking and complex analysis.”

Envision a child riding her bicycle to school, perhaps even arriving early enough for a game of tag or basketball on the playground. After this exercise she heads inside to begin her day with math, as many schools do. Voila, according to exercise research, math may become a manageable challenge rather than a struggle.


Additionally, in the past few years various schools have experimented with exchanging desk chairs for exercise balls. In a study done on swiss balls in the classroom, Bob Nellis of the Mayo Clinic found the balls improved children’s focus and allowed them to move around in small ways without disturbing others.

Rather than having their chairs simply hold them up, exercise balls require kids to sit actively, engaging their bodies while their minds work.


I pondered the ways people use exercise to supplement kids’ learning on my 35 minute ride back to school for afternoon pick-up. The weather was hot and bright, typical of mid-afternoon in our mountain foothills region. I tried to think clearly in the strong heat. At this point I don’t think I can manage biking the kids to school every other day, but I think I could do it once a week.

My kids were more excited than I expected to hear this pronouncement, and their enthusiasm buoyed me as we hit the bike path once more.


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5 Responses to Bicycling to School Can Improve Learning

  1. deirdre says:

    Yay! Both the parent and kids benefit from this good idea–a double-goodie!

  2. Sherry Sommer says:

    I love this article! Our son has been biking to middle school this year, and it has been a wonderful thing for us. Sometimes, as you did, we ride with him, and get our exercise and some together time as well. When it’s too chilly in the morning we drive him to school and he rides home. The exercise has been a huge benefit to him, but there is another unforeseen plus–he gets to socialize with buddies en route. Getting down to homework is easy when he’s had such a great end to the day.

  3. You can’t see me, but I am bowing to you with admiration. It is a great thing to start the day with exercise. I remember reading about this someplace else as well, and the article was emphasizing how good this is for boys’ brains in particular.
    Another angle to this…my 10 y.o. son rides to school some mornings and when he talks about it, he says he loves the time to himself and the sense of independence he feels. Living in the electronic age, when kids can be plugged into something a lot, I love the idea of my son just being out there on his own with his own thoughts, uninterrupted, even if it’s just for 10 minutes.
    Thanks again!

    • I love it that people are mentioning additional positive experiences generated from their kids bicycling to school! It gives me even more motivation to ride regularly with my younger kids, and to make sure my middle schooler continues to bike to school as much as possible. Thank you thank you!

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