Exploring New Horizons With Library Biking Field Trips
At the 2022 National Bike Summit, the virtual session Bike Advocacy through Community Connections featured a presentation from Noah Lenstra, director and founder of Let’s Move in Libraries, an international initiative focused on supporting healthy living through public library programs and partnerships. Through Noah’s presentation, as well as presentations from Charise Stephens, executive director of U Create Macon, and Rev. G. Travis Norvell of Judson Memorial Baptist Church, bike advocates explored how public spaces, like libraries, can make great places for communities to promote bicycling and advance bicycle advocacy.
In this guest blog, children’s and young adult librarian Rachael Button shares how Decorah Library, one of many public libraries across the nation utilizing bikes to connect communities, gets local middle school students moving on bikes through biking field trips. After reading, watch the recording of Bike Advocacy through Community Connections for more community connection ideas.
Exploring New Horizons with Library Biking Field Trips
“Bikes and books both offer adventure, self-sufficiency and a chance to explore new horizons.” – Laura Silver, media project associate from Transportation Alternatives in New York City
Imagine middle school students gathering each week after school to cycle—exploring different destinations, learning how to ride on the road, stopping at the local bike shop for maintenance tips, and practicing their route reading skills. Picture kids sharing snacks and sunshine, filling an hour and a half after school with supervised practice riding bikes, getting to know their community, and learning how to make safe choices on the road.
Decorah Public Library and Upper Exploreland’s Biking School Bus started offering Biking Field Trip sessions for middle school students in response to a need. We knew our community wanted more outdoor after-school activities and we wanted to offer an open-to-all program that matched the energy of and empowered kids to engage in human-powered exploration. We wanted to cultivate a sense of place. Now, after offering one summer biking clinic and an autumn and spring biking field trip month-long series, the program has grown in both impact and popularity and we are excited to share our tips for offering something similar in your community.
We value the safety and comfort of our participants so we required registration for this free program. Our registration form included caregiver contact information, a waiver, details about any food or environmental allergies, and information about whether participants needed to borrow a bike or helmet (we budgeted to rent gear for participants if needed). We also informed caregivers that each child needed a water bottle, closed-toed shoes, and a helmet — just a few of the things you need to stay healthy and safe on a ride.
Before each field trip, we sent out an email to all registered participants with our plan and route for the day. We brought orange vests for adult program leaders and carried a first aid kit for any emergencies. We planned routes carefully to minimize riding on any super busy roads and picked destinations (read on for examples) we thought middle school kids would enjoy exploring. We staffed our field trips with three adults (one to lead, one in the middle, and one to take up the back of the line).
What Each Field Trip Looked Like
Participants meet up at the middle school bike rack immediately after school on Wednesdays. We know kids often need a snack, the opportunity to move around, and time to socialize after school. For our most recent biking field trip sessions, we wanted each field trip to also include a local destination and a small lesson to help kids become safer and more independent cyclists. One week we visited the bike shop and learned about bike maintenance on the route to visit a local waterfall. One week we practiced map reading on our way to a popular hiking destination. Another week, the temperature rose to the mid-nineties, so we practiced different methods of staying cool and spotlighted public drinking fountains before finishing our field trip at an ice cream parlor.
One common denominator that seemed to make each trip fun was keeping lessons short and trying to maximize the time kids could hang out, banter, and just enjoy their bikes and each other. Even in just a few weeks, we watched their confidence on bikes grow. Toward the end of our spring session, when we complimented the group on how well they made a sharp turn on their bikes at the bottom of a steep hill, one participant commented, “well we’ve practiced it every week so we’re better now.”
Here are just a few of the comments we’ve heard from those involved with the trips:
“[My kid] loves this program and hopes to do it in the future! One thing I love as a parent is that this also helps kids learn their way around town.” – From a parent
“I didn’t know what my parents were signing me up for but this ended up being pretty cool.” – From a participant
“[My child] has enjoyed each one she has participated in. It has given her an opportunity to become more independent and meet students outside of her normal school community. It’s also an excellent way to keep her off electronics if she were just at home.” – From a parent