Self-reliance grows from bike and personal safety lessons

Now that she's in a position to help several younger siblings grow in safety, Rachel Albert expresses appreciation for how well her parents taught her self-reliance through various aspects of bicycle and personal safety.

Albert, 19, the third of nine children in the Bellingham family of Bryan and Jean Albert, is convinced that learning safe cycling, walking and how to use the bus is an effective way to grow stronger, both mentally and physically.

Her older siblings, Lydia, 22, and John, 21, helped teach her as well as her parents. She recalls receiving constant encouragement from family members while growing up.

The Albert family children are deeply involved in numerous activities, especially athletics and fine arts, and Jean says there's no way they could be nearly as active without learning self-reliance and safety.

Rachel, a sophomore at Western Washington University and a scholarship player on the women's basketball team, and Jean talked with Bellingham Families about family safety.

They will be deeply involved in the topic for years, since the younger children are Jake, 18; Laura, 16; Kathleen, 14; Jamey, 13; Peter, 9; and Mia, 2. This month, Rachel and her parents are proud to see Laura becoming the fifth family member to take advantage of Running Start at Whatcom Community College.

Question: Rachel, even though your family home schools until the children begin high school activities and Running Start, how involved in safety are you?

Rachel: Totally. (As the children grow up), our parents carefully and thoroughly teach all of us about how to get around safely. They always go with us and make sure we know the right cycling routes before they let us go alone. They make sure we have the confidence we need to be safe.

Jean: We use the manual of the Boy Scouts for much of our safety education. It offers a great deal of good advice and covers just about everything.

Q: Rachel, just how important has learning how to use bicycle routes safely and learning how to get around in other ways been for you?

Rachel: I needed to learn all of it. Dad works (at Logos Bible Software) and there's no way in our large family that mom could take us everywhere we needed to go, especially since we have one car. Dad was a competitive cyclist in Colorado and still loves to bicycle, so he has inspired us. And he likes to say that having to cycle in the rain builds character!

Q: Without a car, how did you manage Running Start at WCC your last two years of high school, plus all those sports at Sehome? (She earned 12 varsity letters in three sports over a four-year span.)

Rachel: Monday through Friday, I would take the bus to WCC for classes and study. Then I would use my road bike to get to Sehome for practice in the afternoons. It's about a five-mile ride from our home (in the Roosevelt Neighborhood) to Sehome. I was really happy when Dad gave me a second-hand Italian road bike he bought for a bargain price when I was a sophomore. I still use my trusty bike as a Western student.

Q: How old were you when you began to bicycle independently?

Rachel: At first, I was allowed short trips, always with a parent or sibling. Then I was allowed to cycle a short distance to play at the Boys & Girls Club. Then, when I was about 12 and starting Whatcom FC Rangers soccer, I was old enough to bicycle to practice about four miles at Shuksan Middle School.

Q: How did your parents give you the confidence to do that?

Rachel: Well, our parents always made sure I knew the best routes to get to and from wherever I needed to go. They taught me all about safety, how to ride, what to wear to be most visible, what equipment is needed. They really made sure of all that. We were never allowed to wear earplugs while cycling. It's huge to be paying total attention. And they especially taught us about defensive cycling, about how to ride as though the drivers could not see us. That's so important.

Q: So you weren't nervous about cycling?

Rachel: No ... my parents were very patient about teaching me. There was always a great line of communication, which is so important. But I remember one time when mom really showed her love about teaching me. She thought I might be a little uncertain about cycling home (from a soccer practice) after she rode with me there. So after she went home, she came back and used chalk to draw all these arrows and smiles on the route and make sure I would know how to go. But since I wasn't totally certain, I caught a ride home with a teammate. But I did see evidence of her work and her love on my next trip!

Q: How old do you think a child should be to cycle safely on his or her own?

Rachel: Maybe about 10 or 11 to go outside their own home street area. That was about when my parents gave me more freedom. But it really depends on the maturity and confidence of each child. Each situation can be different. It's really up to the parents to know when their children are ready.

Jean: I would say by about 12 before they're really ready. But you know, you can stack 'em up (group cycling) if they're not ready individually.

Q: What about "stranger danger," walking and taking the bus?

Rachel: I learned about not talking with strangers, about crossing the street (if something seemed amiss ahead) and about asking for help if needed. We learned to be aware of our surroundings and to go another way if we feel someone is following us. Our parents teach us everything kids need to know. On the bus, it was fun to make friends with the regulars.

Q: Do you have a family meeting spot in case of emergency?

Rachel: Yes, we have that worked out.

Q: Jean, do your children share bicycles?

Jean: We have to now. At one time, we had seven bicycles in the family, but repairs are constant. Now we have three. It's like a relay how we use them!

Q: Jean, how strong do you think transportation self-reliance makes children?

Jean: I think it makes children really strong. You know, sometimes I think it's not always really about the sports, but it's about the cycling!