Family Biking: Here’s how to ace Walk + Roll to School Day

The parties and parades will be much more fun if you plan ahead and get involved.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

International Walk + Roll to School Day is in three weeks (October 2nd) and now’s the time to make sure you have a plan to take advantage of it.

Here’s what you need to know:

First thing to do is register online at the City of Portland’s website. Register even if you don’t have your event details sorted out and register even if you suspect your school has someone signing you up. Also, by signing up and supplying your email address you’ll be added to newsletters for future events and you’ll be in the know even earlier next year. After you get registered scroll down to see some ideas for easy, cheap, and free event ideas.

Sign up for these free prizes.

➤ Register on local and national website
If you’re connected to a school in the Centennial, David Douglas, Parkrose, Portland Public, or Reynolds school districts you can order free prizes from the Portland Bureau of Transportation. Order by September 23rd to ensure delivery on time. This year I’m forgoing the temporary tattoos since they haven’t been as popular as the other prizes, but I’m asking for the maximum number of stickers, pencils, and shoelaces.

Also go to the Walk & Bike to School website and register your school there. This will add you to the national count. This site is also great if you aren’t in one of the five districts eligible for the free PBOT prizes. In fact, you can even register an event for your preschool.

➤ Advertise with posters now

One of two free poster templates available.

Has your student’s Back to School Night happened yet? Probably not, so get a flyer up at school where everyone will see it. You’ll probably need to check with the front office about hanging a flyer at school. PBOT’s Walk + Roll section has two posters to download, one with an editable area, both provided by The Street Trust. There are also examples of previous posters designed by various area schools.

Find a plethora of downloadable materials on the national Walk & Bike website. In addition to the customizable flyers (Word documents) there are banners, stickers, puzzles, and punch cards.

My printer is perpetually out of service so I either pay to print at the neighborhood copy shop or solicit a bike-friendly staffer at school. See if there’s a copy machine you can use at school for free black and white copies.

Another free option is handmade posters. Does your school have a “green team” or student leaders who might like to help? Kids love making posters. But don’t delay and draw your own today to get it in front of those Back to School Night eyes in time, even if it just says “Walk + Roll to School Day is October 2nd — Stay tuned for details!”

➤ Advertise in newsletters and groups
Have Walk + Roll to School Day added to your school calendar(s). You might have an opportunity to add it to two calendars if your principal and PTA keep separate event calendars. They might also send two separate newsletters that can both add a blurb for it. Inquire at the office is there are other newsletters you can advertise in, such as room rep emails or if part of your school population has its own newsletter (such as for a language immersion program). Is there a Facebook group of parents? Post there! Our elementary school has a new communication app I vow to figure out soon so I can post about our event.


➤ Advertise in person
Does your school have a big weekly meeting like our Friday Morning Meeting? I get on the agenda to stand in front of all the students (and any parents who stay for 15 minutes after dropping off kids) to give details about bike events. Or if announcements are made via intercom and you can submit a blurb or sign up to add your announcement, do that. In either case, consider writing a fun script and recruiting extra players to make it especially memorable.

➤ Advertise in sidewalk chalk in two weeks
I love drawing my bike event advertisements near the main entrances, exits, and bike racks with sidewalk chalk. I think this reaches more eyes than anything else. Be prepared to re-chalk if the weather doesn’t cooperate and it all goes down the drain.

Now for some easy event ideas…

➤ The place
You can meet either off-site and parade to school or greet walkers and rollers as they arrive to the bike racks or front door. You can even do both by meeting people at school and then leading a parade around the building. I’ve taken to doing something sort of in the middle by having people arrive early to the park adjacent to school for a small party and then parade along the paths to the building. This means we don’t make use of any Safe Route to School since we’re avoiding all streets, but there’s still some active transportation involved and it’s still a fun parade.

➤ Music
After much research and over-thinking, we’ve settled on the Amazon Prime playlist Songs to Bug Your Parents.” Rock out to The Chipettes (gal pals of Alvin and the Chipmunks) performing Beyoncé’s Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It), the KIDZ BOP Kids version of The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?), and the originals of Whoomp! There It Is and Raining Tacos. If you have an Amazon Prime account and a little Bluetooth speaker, you’ve got free tunes and the means to blast them.

➤ Snacks

Snacks are key!
(Photo: Madi Carlson)

A 20-minute party before parading to school need not have snacks, but if you’ve got a $20 budget (and ask the PTA if they can provide money for this) snacks are great. As much as I think fruit will be a big hit, it’s only the toddler little siblings toddlers who select it. Leftover fruit gets hoisted on the office for school staff to enjoy. So go for fruit chews and doughnut holes.

➤ Party activity
Music, snacks, and congratulating everyone for celebrating walking and biking all make for a great party, but having a quick activity to keep kids engaged is always a good idea. I like to bring sidewalk chalk and seed the place with some drawings of bikes and inspirational phrases about walking and biking. Having a big piece of paper and pens to write down things about biking and walking (or just doodle) is always a hit. And don’t forget to give away those prizes! You can choose to make prize packs with your freebies or let the kids choose what they want from a big pile of stuff.

➤ Parade

Make the routes short and sweet.

If your event isn’t at the entrance to school, keep an eye on the time and start your parade with sufficient time to get kids to the building before the bell rings. You’ll likely need to have two parades, with walkers leaving several minutes before the rollers. This means you’ll need two parade marshals. Since our parades don’t need to cross any streets I recruit a student to lead the walkers and once they’ve made the turn to the front of the building I lead the rollers to the bike racks via the back of the building. I mark the two routes with sidewalk chalk arrows a day in advance (it takes about 20 minutes) so it’s easy for the walkers to take the route I want them to take (lest the rollers who don’t tend to stay behind me at my sedate parade velocity intermingle with them).

Please add any fun ideas for events and promoting them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com if it sounds like fun to you.

— 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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4 years ago

My local school has signs up and it’s good to see bikes in the racks year round. The one shortcoming is the number of riders doing so without lights. The last few weeks before the time change in November, has them getting to school when it is still dark. And lights all the time doesn’t hurt.

Suggested event, bring your bike in for inspection. Get one of the local shop mechanics to come in and make sure the bikes are truly safe to ride, and properly equipped for riding in the dark. Maybe the PTO can help subsidize getting lights for the kids.

Dan A
Dan A
4 years ago
Reply to  canuck

Your SRTS coordinator may have some money budgeted for incentives to encourage walking & biking to school. I would talk to them as well.

4 years ago
Reply to  canuck

Thanks Madi for the great write up. As Dan said, check with your local SRTS coordinator. For those in Portland email We are able to support families who can’t afford lights (walking, biking or rolling).