The asphalt loop at Little Lambs Preschool was teeming with traffic but not from cars and sport utility vehicles.
Instead, bike and wagon tires scraped the pavement. Youngsters, many of them sporting bright red Hawaiian Punch mustaches, squealed with glee as they circled the area known for the morning as Hugwell Avenue.
"What's your name?" asked Tyler Joly as a visitor approached. At 4, he has mastered the art of balancing a two-wheeler. So has 5-year-old Elliott Ansdine, who can also spell both his first and last name.
"I don't have training wheels," Elliott said before zooming off on his black bicycle.
This wasn't just playtime for the tots at the Land O'Lakes preschool. It also was an opportunity to put into practice the safety rules they had been learning all week.
Rules such as using care when crossing a driveway. Avoid riding in the street. Beware of parked cars.
"And always wear your helmet," offered Elliott.
The project was done in connection with a fundraiser for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. The hospital provided materials for a bicycle safety program. In return, the 20 or so children at the preschool and their families collected donations for St. Jude.
"They know they are helping children who are very sick," said preschool director Dawn Bernicky, who donned a pair of inline skates for the trike-a-thon on Friday. The school so far collected about $250 for St. Jude.
The bike safety materials featured stories about Bikewell Bear, who is being trained with other bears to become a teddy bear and watch over a little boy or girl.
But Bikewell sometimes doesn't listen to the lessons taught by teacher Mrs. Hugwell, a veteran teddy bear.
As Bikewell finally learns, so do the children.
"It's not like it was when we were growing up," said Dawn's husband, Eddie, who was on hand to capture their 3-year-old daughter, Victoria, on videotape as she rode in a little red wagon.
Eddie, like many adults, remembers the days of Evel Knievel-esque stunts, wheelie ramps and rushing downhill with no hands. All helmetless, of course. And all without adult supervision.
It's a wonder any of them survived, he said.
Times have changed.
Kids learn safety in schools and at the Sheriff's Office Safety Town. The law also requires anyone younger than 16 to wear a bike helmet.
"I do see children who are potential victims," said Frank Zaccaro, crime prevention specialist at Safety Town. "They're carrying passengers and weaving because they can't handle it."
One only has to read the newspapers to see the results of inattention on the part of drivers and cyclists.
A 14-year-old Plant City boy was killed in June when he was accidentally hit by an ice cream truck. The boy was not wearing a helmet, and the bike had no lights.
In August, an 11-year-old Pasco boy was seriously injured as he pedaled across a road in Holiday. A girl was hit by a van in November when she tried to cross Ridge Road on her bicycle.
In Hernando County last year, a 12-year-old boy was killed and his twin was injured when they were riding a scooter on the crest of a hill at dusk and got hit by a car.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, four states _ California, Florida, New York, and Texas _ accounted for 40 percent of bicycle deaths in 2000, the latest figures the agency has listed. Death rates are highest among 12-year-olds, but also are high among 13- and 14-year-old boys.
Little Lambs hopes teaching children while they are young will make them practice those habits later.
"It's good that they are learning these now," Dawn Bernicky said, as she rolled away on her skates.
_ Lisa Buie is the editor of the central/east edition of the Pasco Times. You can reach her at (813) 909-4604 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4604. Her e-mail address is buiesptimes.com
SAFE BIKING TIPS
Here are some tips for safe biking from the American Automobile Association:
Stop at intersections. Walk bike across busy intersections and streets.
Drive on right with traffic.
Obey traffic signs, signals and pavement markings. Stop at stop signs.
Stop and be sure road is clear before entering a sidewalk or driveway.
Use proper hand signaling for turning or stopping.
Avoid driving at night.
Give right of way to pedestrians
Watch out for opening car doors.
Wear bright-colored clothing or hat. Fasten a Day-glo safety flag to your bike.
Use bike paths and lightly traveled streets when you can.
Keep your bike in good repair.
When riding with a group, form a single line, one bike length apart on the right side of the road.
Carry packages in a basket, carrier or backpack, and keep both hands on the handlebars.