How to throw a winter bike-to-school party

Pretty great turnout for a near-freezing morning in February!
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

It may not feel like it right now, but spring is right around the corner, and not long after that comes Bike to School Day (May 8th). Why not throw an “off-season” bike-to-school party to celebrate the winter bikers, walkers, and rollers, and build excitement for those better days on the horizon?

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At Woodstock Elementary, we just threw a party, very much like our October Walk to School Day Party. My co-conspirator Carolyn and I chose our date to fall close to the Worst Day of the Year Ride, which seemed like a terrific idea on a balmy Wednesday two months ago, though I admit I went into the morning a little anxious about making people hang out in the 29-degree cold for 20 minutes before the schoolday started. (Spoiler alert: it was fine!)

We met at the tree-sheltered picnic tables in Woodstock Park (adjacent to our school) and then had two parades. First, the walkers (about 20 people and two dogs) led by a student leader from the school’s new Sustainability Committee, and then the 37 or so bikers. With no street to cross and the school building 0.23 miles away and within sight of the party, it still feels like a parade, but it’s as easy as can be. Even meeting in a school playground and then parading the long way around the building to the front door would make for a terrific party/parade.

Short and sweet parade routes.

Full disclosure: our school was awarded a grant from Metro’s Regional Travel Options program (thanks, Metro!) and before that we had snack money from the PTA for Walk to School Day. We’re saving most of our grant funds for big things coming up so this was quite the affordable party and worth replicating.

I still had a lot of free PBOT Walk + Roll Day prizes left over — partially because in October I had prizes laid out for kids to choose from and the stickers, temporary tattoos, and unsharpened pencils (I think I’ll sharpen them before our next party) weren’t as enticing as the emoji keychains, bike lights, and sunglasses. So this time I made prize packs by stuffing a bag with a sticker, temporary tattoo, pencil, and bookmark. Any — not just bike-specific — stickers, temporary tattoos, and pencils make great, cheap prizes.


Can’t have a party without snacks! Again, I had leftover items from our October party: goldfish crackers and fruit chews. But I wanted to supplement that with some more breakfasty items: doughnut holes in powdered and old fashioned (those went fast!), bananas cut into thirds (no one ate those so I left them for the school staff, lesson learned), apple cinnamon fig bars (a vegan option), and hot chocolate (actually, hot chocolate almond milk, also vegan). I strayed a bit out of the neighborhood, but still well within biking distance, to get our snacks at Grocery Outlet.
Note: I happen to have an Oregon food handlers card and this event wasn’t at school so I didn’t worry about breaking any PPS food rules. However, packaged non-perishable snacks last from event to event and never require a food handlers card, so I’d recommend you balance those with any fruit other than bananas.

Back in October I learned that hanging out for 20 minutes doesn’t make for a party so I added a couple activities this time:

[icon name=”check” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] A poster to add reasons kids like walking/biking/rolling.

[icon name=”check” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] Stamp station to make bookmarks, including bike stamp that will get use for years to come. (The stamps were from biking-distance-away JOANN Fabric and Craft Store in Eastport Plaza.)

[icon name=”check” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] Sidewalk chalk…but the other stuff was so fun no one decorated the ground this time.

I have a little bike speaker and spend much too much time stressing about the perfect music for these kid parties. This party’s decision was made for me when a commuter breezed past us a week ago blasting reggae from his bike. What a great winter pick-me-up! I settled on the a playlist called “Reggae BBQ” and I’d like to think October’s “Good Morning, Tweens” playlist was a winner, too, and I’ll use it again in the future.

There’s nothing so sad as a kid who feels left out! Kids approach me at school to let me know they missed out on their Bike Month or Walk to School Day Prizes so now I’ve got a small supply of the sticker/tattoo/pencil/bookmark bags in the office kids can ask for.

Let’s back up and talk how to promote your event; because who wants to hang out 20 minutes in the cold all alone before a lonely parade of one?

[icon name=”check” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] Newsletters. Our school has two weekly newsletters, one from the principal and one from the PTA. I put events in each of these for a few weeks leading up. Some schools also have newsletters for each classroom sent by a volunteer parent room rep.

[icon name=”check” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] Friday Morning Meeting. All students crowd into the gym each Friday at the start of the school day and parents are welcome to stay for the 15-minute meeting. I have yet to recruit helpers to perform a Bike to School skit (but I will!) so for now I just announce our events a couple weeks leading up. If your school doesn’t have this sort of meeting, ask if you can come make an announcement to the students during their lunch periods.

[icon name=”check” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] Sidewalk chalk announcements. The weather wasn’t conducive this time, but I love writing event details at every entrance to the school, sure to draw eyes. Recruit a student group to help with this (our Student Leaders make great chalk signs!).

[icon name=”check” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] Posters. I can use the black-and-white staff copier so I created and printed a simple flyer at home and printed 10 copies to hang around school. And to make up for the rain-soaked chalk surfaces, I also made a big poster to hang by the bike rack, with eye-catching balloons.

[icon name=”check” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] Word of mouth. I ask parents at the bike rack if they’ve heard about the event a week in advance and most haven’t so word of mouth is a great way to reach folks, especially if they’re folks already walking and biking and/or arriving to school early.

[icon name=”check” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] Internet. Many schools have Facebook pages, but some of these events should be open to the community at large (our future events will) so we’ll post to neighborhood Facebook groups, NextDoor, and add to online community calendars.

[icon name=”check” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] Translation services. Can you reach more families if you share your event in multiple languages? Our school has a Mandarin Immersion program and a Spanish-speaking population.

Will you throw a party at your school? Do you have ideas for prizes, snacks, party activities, or music to share? I’d love more ideas. Thanks for reading!

Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch if it sounds like fun to you. I’d especially like to feature families of color so please get in touch or ask friends of color who bike with their kids if they’re interested in sharing their stories. And as always, feel free ask questions in the comments below or email me your story ideas and insights at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

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Madi Carlson

Madi Carlson

Madi Carlson (@familyride on Twitter) wrote our Family Biking column from February 2018 to November 2019. She's the author of Urban Cycling: How to Get to Work, Save Money, and Use Your Bike for City Living (Mountaineers Books). In her former home of Seattle, Madi was the Board President of Familybike Seattle, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting bicycling as a means for moving towards sustainable lifestyles and communities. She founded Critical Lass Seattle, an easy social group ride for new and experienced bicyclists who identify as women and was the Director of Seattle's Kidical Mass organization, a monthly ride for families. While she primarily bikes for transportation, Madi also likes racing cyclocross, all-women alleycats, and the Disaster Relief Trials. She has been profiled in the Associated Press, Outdoors NW magazine, CoolMom, and ParentMap, and she contributed to Everyday Bicycling by Elly Blue.

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5 years ago

This is such a great idea! Love that you did it mid-winter to show that biking is still a viable option even when it’s cold.

Caitlin D
5 years ago

Great advice. Thank you!