Cycling is the most common mode of transport around Amsterdam, but it's not always a stress-free journey in the city.Especially when it's your child negotiating the busy roads to school alone on a bike....
My son is nearly 12 years old and just started high school after the summer. And the general rule here in the Netherlands seems to be that once your child starts high school, they cycle by themselves to school. As terrifying as this may seem for any parent, let me assure you this does not just happen overnight. In fact, you have kind of been practising ever since your child got his first set of wheels.
In our case this was when we were still living in Australia and my son received a tricycle. He started to get used to pedalling and we would push him around and around. Loopfietsen are great from 2 years old and let the kids get the feel of scooting themselves around the park and beginning to get a feel for balance as they start getting adventurous on small hills.
Once my son could ride a two-wheeler bike, we were now living in Amsterdam and able to go on what seemed at the time to be super long adventures. In reality we would go half way around the Vondelpark before heading home. On trips to the supermarket and to school, I generally cycled the children in the bakfiets. Sometimes if we were just going somewhere nearby, one of the children would ride alongside on the footpath. And we have always insisted our children wear helmets, something they still do.
When they were around 6 years old, they wanted to start cycling further and to cycle to school. Out of the parks and onto the roads was a big step. Especially as we had a couple of tricky intersections on our way to school. My son would ride his bike next to me where there was enough space, with my daughter on the back of my bike. When the road was too narrow, my son would ride just in front of me so I could keep an eye on him. I would always tell him when the road was clear and, it wasn’t until a few years later, he would start to judge for himself if it was clear to cross.
With two kids then on bikes, my son led the pack with my daughter and I cycled side by side behind him. I could generally see what was up ahead and call out instructions when needed. We taught the children to look out for cars opening their doors. And gradually how to be assertive cycling so the motorists would know to stop when they had right of way.
When we moved house, the cycle to school became a twenty-minute cycle through the centre of Amsterdam. We decided to look at this as a good thing, being able to give our children a few years of training how to cycle through the city whilst we were there to give guidance and tips.
In the last year of primary school, my son would head off just a little earlier than us so that he could practice cycling by himself and at the same time knowing we were not far behind. We gave him an old mobile phone in case he got a puncture or if anything happened. And it was always reassuring to check he had made it to school when we arrived a few minutes later.
All this preparation and he is now cycling by himself to high school. I will never get a 100% guarantee that he will be safe. But he is as prepared as he could be. Although it is still a parent’s prerogative to be more than a little worried about all the other crazy drivers out there and hope my son will be ok.