They’ll come on bikes, skateboards, scooters or simply walk. National Ride2School Day is coming up on March 19, and it’s expected that more than 300,000 Australian students from 1,700 registered schools will participate. 

Now in its eighth year, the event has grown to include bike decorating competitions, group rides and special school-wide healthy breakfasts.

It’s a festive atmosphere that celebrates active travel and is guaranteed to raise a smile, said Tess Allaway, General Manager of Behaviour Change at Bicycle Network.

Tess has spent the day visiting participating schools for the past three years. “Students love being active in the morning. It’s a lot more fun than sitting in the back of the car where they might feel a bit sleepy,” she said.

The fresh air and exercise mean they arrive at school ready to learn. “Research shows that students who ride, walk, scoot or skate to school concentrate for longer in class, are more alert and ready to participate in class,” she said.

Just one third of Australian children get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day they need to be healthy and happy. National Ride2School Day organisers at Bicycle Network believe that riding or walking to school is a great way to meet those requirements.

Bicycle Network works closely with councils, parents, prinicipals and teachers in the community to make sure more children travel to school by active means.

The organisation also works with local governments to offer advice on infrastructure that supports active travel, like traffic calming works, way-finding routes to school, and by offering bike education courses for primary school students.

On National Ride2School Day, (and every day), parents are encouraged to lead by example and walk or ride with their children to school, and eventually, encourage them to do so independently, she said. “They need to feel confident to walk and ride on their own at some point. We don’t want their parents riding alongside them when they’re 15 years old!”

Because it’s National Ride2School Day, it’s no surprise teachers are champions of the program.

“Like parents, teachers can role model the right behaviour, so on Ride2School day we encourage teachers to ride and walk to school, and also get involved in our monthly reporting,” she said.

While National Ride2School Day is an effective way to shine a spotlight on kids’ physical activity levels once a year, it is one part of a larger campaign.

“What we’re really asking schools to do is commit to an active travel day at least once per month,” said Tess. “On those days the schools monitor how many of their students are actively travelling to their school, and then they report that data back to us.”

The data that flows back to the Bicycle Network shows that of the participating schools, 50 percent of students walk, ride, skate or scoot to school.

“That’s a key statistic for us, because we know the norm for schools outside our program is around 20 percent active travel rate,” explained Tess.

In 2014 the Bicycle Network aims to maintain an active travel rate of 50 percent, in addition to adding more schools to the National Ride2School Day program.

“We would love every school in Australia to be in our program and report their data,” said Tess. “That’s what success looks like to us.”