A creative project designed to introduce children (from ages 7 to 11) to positive pro-cycling messages and cycling role models that they can identify with.
Catch them young – hook them for life, so the saying goes. Those who cycle as children are more likely to cycle as adults. And today's children will be the adults and parents of tomorrow. Hence, one of the most important things that we, as pro-cycling activists, should now be doing is promoting cycling to children. Where I live in the UK only 0.5% of children cycle to school, a shockingly low figure that has only negative consequences for kids, as well as society at large.
So let's make cycling cool, so that it becomes the leisure activity and transport mode of choice for children everywhere. With this in mind I'm now in the process of writing and illustrating a series of children's picture books, which are designed to introduce children (from ages 7 to 11) to positive pro-cycling messages and cycling role models that they can identify with.
The role models in question are a mixed-race, mixed-gender gang of everyday kids who have adventures while out riding their bikes. Their actions and interactions are humourous and entertaining, while also introducing ideas and questions to get readers thinking about cycling best practice.
The books are intended as storybooks rather than how-to manuals, yet useful cycling tips and information are included, and the e-book versions will contain hotspots that provide users with an interactive learning environment. Parents and teachers who read the books to children are given every opportunity to engage with, and ask questions of, their young audience; and learn things themselves!
Most importantly though, these are picture books for kids, and their points of view are central to the stories. Children's comments and suggestions will be fed back into the books as the series progresses, and (through school projects and competitions) they will be invited to contribute to the writing and drawing of future books, as well as featuring in them as illustrated characters. I will also be facilitating other related cycling activities that children can get involved with, with a view to helping young people's pro-cycling voices be heard, through the creation of their own "brand".
Whether we like it or not today's play and learning environment is a brand-saturated one: a variety of studies have shown how young children respond to branding even before they've learned their ABC. These picture books and related projects will aim to offer kids an entirely different brand experience: one that encourages creativity over consumption, activity rather than passivity, and independence rather than reliance.
In the words of Malcolm Shepherd (chief executive of Sustrans): "Encouraging kids to choose an active way of getting to school [i.e. cycling] will get them outdoors and exercising everyday, help them be more alert and ready to learn when they get to school, and lead to a nation of healthier, more independent children."
Featured graphic: Ty, one of the biker gang, on his BMX.
London, United Kingdom
Category: Cycling and the Arts