While in the Netherlands, I had the unique opportunity to be invited by another Mum to observe school drop off. I was eager to see and be part of the massive bicycle commute, and see how my usual Canadian school drop off differed from the one my friend does daily.
For this short bike ride, I borrowed a bicycle, and off we went at 8:20. I have seen traffic all around the world, but nothing quite like this one. My borrowed bike was a single speed, with rear coaster brakes. My brain, still in Canada, and by body conformed to an 8 speed bakfiets, I completely forgot that I had to use my feet for braking, not my hands. I almost careened into the intersection, the young teenagers giggling around me as I managed to turn, then brake. As I stopped, everyone went around me and kept going. The driver of the car, smiled, waved and went on his way. Nobody was angry, they just wanted to make sure I was good.
Already, it seemed nobody was in a hurry, everyone’s head space was to get to their destination safely, not to rush.
As we arrived with all the other parents, and kids to school I was blown away by the lineup of bicycles. There were no teachers standing outside greeting kids, nor were there passes to get into the school, cameras or any security features. Most schools in Canada have become fort knox, and all volunteer parents have to get police checks.
I began taking photos as my friend went off into the school with her daughters. A Father came up to me, not knowing who I was with, and began to ask politely what I was doing. I mentioned I was taking pictures of all the bicycles. With that, he asked that I not take pictures of any of the kids (I never do without permission, or I blur faces). More parents stopped and asked what I was doing. I realized, no security was needed, the parents were the watch dogs, which was very refreshing. In Canada, it seems we are always in a rush, and we often times don’t notice what is going on around us. I often notice my fellow Canadian parents, drop off their 4-year-old at school, but not notice if they went into the school with their teachers safely, we think of it as the teachers responsibility.
This particular Dutch school has sent home numerous letters and maps drawn out with various rings around the circle, to encourage parents to walk their children to school if they are within a certain radius (ring one), as there was no more room to expand their bicycle parking, the next ring bicycles, and the one after that was public transportation, and it is discouraged to drive children to school, and not for the reasons many would think. There is no room for a car to stop safely and allow children to get out safely.
Looking at our short commute to school here in Canada, I see more and more parents driving to school as the weather starts to turn cold and rainy. There is plenty of bicycle parking, and walking is encouraged, but there is no transportation committee as there is in many Dutch schools. Many of my fellow Canadian parents have long commutes, and stress is high. So it becomes easier to get into the car, drop off at school, then commute.