5 Ways to Make Traffic Gardens Even More Fun

evelyn murcia event and outreach coordinator arlington county
Evelyn Murcia Tweet Us @bikearlington@bikearlington September 21, 2021

Evelyn Murcia is the Events and Outreach Coordinator for Active Transportation. She enjoys riding her bike year round on Arlington’s trails and streets. She also enjoys wrenching on bikes from time to time.

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Do you have a young bike rider in your life? Have you ever heard of a traffic garden? Read on to learn about these useful learning tools and a few ways you can enjoy them with your child.

We’ve previously described traffic gardens as interactive spaces where kids can learn the patterns, designs, and rules of the road. They are modeled on a typical street: with lanes, intersections, crosswalks, and signs – but on a kid’s scale.

Arlington has a few temporary traffic gardens located around the County, and a learner’s loop in Glencarlyn Park (at the intersection of the W&OD Trail and Columbia Pike) that is a safe place to practice riding. You can also make your own traffic garden on your street or driveway (if you have one) using a DIY toolkit from our friends at Discover Traffic Gardens.

How to use a Traffic Garden?

All you need is your child or student’s bicycle (pedal or strider/balance) or their scooter and a helmet, and you’re ready to go.

They might be super enthusiastic and ready to ride all day every day or may need a bit of motivational cheering. The activities below can serve all types of riders, with the caveat: listen to and observe the rider if they’re not feeling up to it yet.

Activity #1: Complete the Course

Difficulty Level: Easy
This is the simplest activity and pretty self-explanatory with little lift needed. Have your child ride through the entirety of the course. Make note of their actions and behavior. Help them with areas they may have trouble with such as turning corners, signaling turns, stopping, or interacting with other road users.

Activity #2: Frog Crossing

Difficulty Level: Easy-Medium
Find a marked crosswalk in the traffic garden, or if there isn’t one, grab some chalk and DIY your best crossing area. Let your rider know before tackling this activity that when there’s a crosswalk they need to be alert and stop to allow those crossing a safe passage. Stretch your legs to get ready to do your best frog impersonation, and hop away! Remember to make eye contact and give them a big ribbit “thank you” for stopping. If you have more than one rider you can enlist others to take turns being the frog, or try being a duck crossing with their ducklings.

Activity #3: Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light

Difficulty Level: Medium
Bring along a red, yellow, and green item such as pieces of colored paper or pieces of fabric (scarves, handkerchiefs, or cloth napkins work well). Before tackling the activity explain to your rider what they should do at each light: stop for red, go for green, and slow down for yellow. Plant yourself at an intersection in the traffic garden and put up the color of your choosing. If you don’t have colorful items with you, you can try yelling out the colors.

Activity #4: Follow the Arm Leader

Difficulty Level: Easy
This activity works best with 2 or more riders on the course (this means you might need to jump in there!). Before tackling this activity, go over proper hand signals with your riders:

    Left arm out = turning left
    Right arm out = turning right
    Back palm or fist up = stopping

Assign a leader. At each intersection, have the leader choose which path to take using their hand signals. Everyone behind the leader must signal the same and follow the arm leader. Have each rider take turns on being the leader.

Activity #5: Slow/Fast Race

Difficulty Level: Medium-Challenging
Find a straightaway section and designate a start and finish line (Optional: mark down the start and finish with chalk). Choose what kind of race you’ll be doing: a slow race or fast race.

A slow race works best with two or more riders on pedal bikes. Challenge the riders to channel their inner sloth and slowly make their way to the finish line. The one who gets there last, without touching their feet to the ground for balance at any point, wins.

A fast race works well with one or more rider(s) on any type of bike or scooter. Challenge your rider to see who gets to the finish line first whether you run against them yourself, or have other riders compete.

More Fun

Traffic gardens are fantastic, safe learning spaces where kids gain skills and increase their independence. For more resources on helping your child be the best rider they can be, check out our Biking for Kids page.

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