On a Sunday afternoon, the sound of bicycle bells and children’s laughter cut through the sultry summer air. Parents and grandparents smiled with pride as the Watts Labor Community Action Committee parking lot was filled – not with cars but with children – maneuvering bicycles through a safety course and enjoying being outdoors in Watts with their families.

Each pedal push moved kids further ahead on their bicycle and, possibly, further towards academic achievement, according to the results of one study.

This day was the vision of the East Side Riders Bike Club, or ESR, which brought more than 150 community members together for a Kids Bike Safety Festival and Family Bike Ride on August 2.

Sponsored by Best Start Watts-Willowbrook and the Coca-Cola Foundation, the event featured an obstacle course for kids, bike classes, free bike repair, skateboard demos and resource booths.

“Community events like this are just one of the ways that Best Start Watts-Willowbrook is helping to support family bonding and promote social connections with family-friendly resources that improve the lives of young children,” said Best Start Communications Officer Afton Kobayashi.

“Kids are having fun; they are outside and not in front of the TV. What could be better than that?” – Jim Shanman

In 14 communities throughout Los Angeles County, First 5 LA’s Best Start program brings together parents and caregivers, residents, organizations, businesses, government institutions and other stakeholders to collectively build a vision and develop strategies to create the best possible community for young children and their families.

ESR, an all-volunteer youth gang and drug prevention group founded in 2008, had participated in a similar event in another part of South Los Angeles.

“We wanted to bring this education to Watts,” said John Jones III of ESR. “It was an opportunity to partner with other organizations and engage them in the work we are trying to do in our community.”

This partnership-building effort brought in the support of Walk ‘n Rollers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging children through education and training to more frequently bike, walk, skate and scoot to and from school. 

The benefits of these activities can go beyond fitness. According to the results of a Danish study released in 2012, walking or riding a bike to school helped children concentrate better in class. The survey looked at nearly 20,000 Danish kids between the ages of 5 and 19. It found that kids who cycled or walked to school, rather than traveling by car or public transportation, performed measurably better on tasks demanding concentration, such as solving puzzles, and that the effects lasted for up to four hours after they got to school.

Exposing toddlers and young children to the idea of walking or riding a bike to neighborhood destinations is one way parents can help their child get ready for kindergarten and get the best start in life.

Walk ‘n Rollers set up an obstacle course managed by certified training instructors, brought bikes for children to borrow, and gave away 30 helmets. Kids completed tasks at each safety station in the course and then received a certificate.

For Jim Shanman, founder of Walk ‘n Rollers, partnering with ESR fit perfectly with his organization’s goals – finding communities that need the resources and encouragement to become healthier. Through events like this, Walk ‘n Rollers helps kids to become more active, instilling what they hope will be a lifelong love of biking and a belief that they don’t need to drive every day and everywhere.

“Kids are having fun; they are outside and not in front of the TV. What could be better than that?” asked Shanman. “They take away some basics and they gain the base knowledge that we believe is the start of something special.”

“It was a great success, as the majority of folks walked away learning something new,” continued Jones. “The kids learned to use their brakes, to stop and look all ways. More people came out than we expected, and that was really exciting to see that more and more are seeing biking as something they can do together as a family here in Watts.”

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Bike riding is a fun activity the whole family can enjoy. Make sure your kids are safe by following these bike safety tips from First 5 LA for families with kids ages 0–5.

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