#StreetsR4Families – Preparing Livable Streets Presentations for Kindergartners and Pre-Schoolers

SBLA Founder Damien Newton talks livability with his son's kindergarden class. Photos: Damien Newton/Streetsblog L.A.
SBLA Founder Damien Newton talks livability with his son’s kindergarden class. Photos: Damien Newton/Streetsblog L.A.

Last week, I used the dual media events of Bike Week and the opening of the Expo Line extension to speak at my kids’ schools about Livable Streets issues. Joe and I thought it could make an interesting follow-up to our 2014 guide to planning a Walk/Bike to School Day for a school that does not already have that event on the calendar.

After the four classes I taught, I gathered feedback from the teachers and parents to see what worked and what didn’t. Here are a few keys to making successful presentations to younger children about Livable Streets:

1. Let the kids talk – For both the pre-schoolers and the kinders, I made it a point to get the kids talking. For the kinders, I would have them tell me stories about the different kinds of trips they make after the student would pull a toy from a bag. If a kid pulled a train, they would be asked to tell me a story about riding the train. If they never rode a train, they would pass the train to a friend who did. Even kindergarteners don’t want to hear you lecture about your kickin’ new bicycle.

2. Talk about safety, but don’t dwell on it – Kids are used to being lectured about being safe, so while it’s probably important to talk about safety; it also isn’t our job to scare them. In the pre-school class, I had one of the more able young ladies put on a bike helmet for the class. Other kids helped me put on bike lights (provided by Metro, see below) on my daughter’s bike. Once that was done, we went into how much fun it is to ride a bicycle and we made a promise that my daughter would ride her bike from our house last Friday.

I presented to the kinders on Bike to School Day. Over half of them biked to school that day. Usually the total cyclists is one. This picture is from the Park and Bike event we hold before school for the commuter students to participate.
I presented to the kinders on Bike to School Day. Over half of them biked to school that day. On a usual day, there’s only one cyclist. This picture is from the Park and Bike event we hold before school for the commuter students to participate.

3. Make it topical – It’s not a coincidence that I did these presentations the week of the Expo opening and on Bike to School Day. It made things feel more relevant to the kids, many of whom are arriving at school in their cars.

4. Let the kids do something – Yes, this is a pretty similar recommendation to the first suggestion, but I want to double-emphasize that a successful presentation is one that doesn’t feel like a part of the class that is being taught by someone else.

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Of course she can bike to school.

5. Involve your own kids – With kids as young as my two kids, it’s important to get them involved in the presentation for a couple of reasons. First, it reminds the other students who you are without having to make the point yourself. Second, it makes what you’re saying more accessible. I wasn’t just yammering about trains to kids, I was showing them the compartment that Sammy had ridden across the country in four years ago. I wasn’t just preaching about the benefits of bike riding, we were tricking out Mary Leigh’s bicycle. A third benefit is that giving your kids a role in the presentation makes it less likely they will crawl all over you while you are trying to talk.

Sammy was involved with everything from bag stuffing to video editing.
Sammy was involved with everything from bag stuffing to video editing. Of course, Metro and LADOT provided some great schwag.

6. Schwag! – To help the lesson stick, give the kids some sort of schwag to take home. I’m lucky that I know people at Metro Los Angeles and LADOT and other non-profits who will give me stuff to give to kids. If you don’t know people at the local planning and transit agencies, you can always try to do a cold call. Most government agencies that have kid-friendly stuff to give away. But if for some reason that doesn’t work out, Walk and Rollers in Culver City has some great “worksheets” you can print up and hand out. Check them out, here.

Have you done livable streets presentations at your kids classes? Add your comments below to let us know how it went, and any advice you have for other interested parents. If you’re posting to social media, include the hashtag #StreetsR4Families.

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