Teaching Kid's to Ride a Bike
Teaching a Child to Ride a Two-Wheeler
Learning to ride a bicycle is a great childhood memory for many people. The feeling of accomplishment and the freedom of mobility it represents are big things for little kids. We all want our kids to feel those same things and would love to have them learn to ride with as little struggle as possible. The following information will help you get your child off in the right direction and up to speed quickly.
Around 3 years old is good time to begin teaching a child to ride a bicycle. Previous experience with tricycles and balance bikes can be a huge help, though that same experience can become a roadblock, too. In an unfamiliar world, kids find comfort in what they already know. It can be tough for them to step away from the trikes and balance bikes they have great skill in and tackle the pedal bike challenge.
Maximizing how comfortable a child is around the bicycle is key to their learning. Kids need a bike that will allow them to sit on the seat and reach the ground with their feet. This is different than adult bike setup and based more on safety, security and comfort than proper biomechanics. If the child is riding a bike with training wheels, the seat can be a bit higher, as the stability the extra wheels offer. Recognizing that kids will learn fastest on a bike they are comfortable with, size-wise, parents should resist the urge to buy a larger bike to “make it last a while”. Many shops have used kid’s bikes or offer trade-in programs that make it easier to keep children on properly sized bikes.
Kids should wear a helmets while they learn to ride. Helmets can certainly help prevent serious injury, but they also minimize the smaller bangs and bumps that are an inevitable part of learning to ride. Knowing that the most fragile area of a little one’s body is covered can take the edge off for fearful parents, too. Speaking of parents, they should be good role models and wear their helmets, as well.
Choose a flat, open area for practice. A slight incline is ok, as it may help to build some momentum, but avoid steep hills, other people and traffic. School playgrounds after hours can be a good option, along with church parking lots on weekdays. Bike trails, though you may love them as an adult, can have too much bike traffic.
Kids will need to know how to balance, steer, pedal and stop their bike. Learning all of these at once is a pretty tall order. Parents must be patient and attentive to the child’s enjoyment/frustration level. Most kids are excited to learn to ride—up to a point. Use games or drills to work on one skill at a time. This approach is less likely to overwhelm a child and will keep their interest level up longer. Most importantly, focus on having fun.
Here are some examples of games or activities that focus on one element of riding. Do enough of these and kids will slowly put the pieces together and ride on their own.
Over a soft carpet or grassy area, have your child sit on their bike. Hold the bike steady, then allow it to slowly lean to the left a bit before straightening it back upright. Slowly lean it to the right and back up. This lets a child feel the sensation of leaning and learn that they can safely stay on the bike as it leans. As they get the hang of it, you can lean the bike so far over the child falls (softly and safely) off of it. This will teach them what the inevitable tumble will be like and that they can survive it just fine.
With the seat adjusted very low, have a child stand over the bike and put their hands on the handlebar grips. A parent can then stand in front of them and have the child walk the bike toward them. As a kid’s skill grows, the parent will move left and right, creating a game of chase. As the child gets the hang of it, the speed they chase at will increase and they may begin to use their bike like a balance bike—sitting on seat and running with it. This activity may seem too basic, but playing this familiar game of chase lets a child spend more time “on” a bike, which will make them more comfortable around one. This comfort and familiarity will help make kids more receptive and interested in learning the balance and pedaling skills.
A child may not see any connection between the pushing of pedals and moving forward on a bike. If a child does not find pedaling intuitive, you can help them learn the connection one of two ways. To show that there IS a connection between pedals and rear wheel. Hold the bike up or flip it onto handlebars, turn the cranks and show how the rear wheel turns. Let them turn the pedals by hand and (carefully) show them the chain and the cogs. Seeing how it all works will help them understand why they need to pedal (not just because you keep yelling for them to do so!).
Ultimately, each child will need a slightly different approach to get going on two wheels. What is the same for each is the need for a parent to be a patient and creative cheerleader along the way. Have fun!