How Teaching Your Child to Ride a Bike Pays Off
Teaching kids to ride a bike ranks among the top duties of parenting, whether you live in the suburbs or a city. Who can fail to remember that scared-excited feeling of their first solo bike ride, sans-training wheels? Mom or Dad gripped the seat, promising to trot along beside you as long as you needed. You inevitably crashed at some point, but you also inevitably learned to ride. That feeling of staying upright, of balancing and propelling yourself forward meant that you had harnessed your own power and gained some independence.
Biking Makes You Stronger and Smarter
Learning to ride a bike teaches kids important skills and sharpens their development. It hones both large and fine motor skills, helps develop hand-eye coordination, and requires advanced thought processes -- including making predictions and problem solving. Plus, biking provides kids with a fun activity to do that has nothing to do with screens.
Perhaps most importantly, when parents teach their kids to ride a bike, they set them up with a mode of transportation for the rest of their lives. Biking provides autonomy and independence, which is especially important for teenagers.
The Question of When
The question of when to teach a kid to ride a bike always arises soon after they’ve left their toddler stages. But before shopping for a preschooler’s first bicycle, you should consider these questions:
- Can your child respond to directions?
- Can your child pedal?
- Does your child show a true interest in riding a bike?
If the answer to all these questions is yes, your kid might be ready for their first bike. On your shopping trip, choose a bicycle that's the appropriate size – most likely a 14- or 16-inch to start. To test for correct fit, check to see if your child's feet touch the ground with legs straight when they're sitting on the seat. If you can afford it, choose a lighter bike and get one that brakes by pedaling backwards. Handbrakes tend to distract new riders who need to concentrate on the process of learning.
Getting Down to the Nitty Gritty
Be sure that the training wheels make the bike wobble a bit. This might seem counter-intuitive, but remember that bike riding requires balance. Establishing from the beginning that your child must lean a bit one way or the other to balance the bike will serve them well in the end.
These days, not all parents choose to go the training wheels route. Balance bikes, a new method of teaching how to ride, are gaining more popularity every year. Balance bikes lack pedals, so kids as young as two-years-old can learn to push themselves along, eventually building up momentum and balancing as they lift their feet, propelled by motion. Once mastered, the transition to a pedal bike goes much more smoothly.
Establishing safety rules should be a priority, so demonstrate this by having your kid pick out a helmet along with their bike. Correct fit of the helmet means a safe child, so take some time to get it right by following these steps:
- Remove any thick ponytails, headbands, or other accessories before trying on a helmet.
- Place the helmet squarely on top of your kid's head; it should rest about two inches above their eyebrows and be snug but not uncomfortable.
- Before you buckle, adjust the tension on the back of the helmet. If no tension wheel exists, look to see if the helmet comes with extra pads to customize the fit.
- Do the shake test: with the helmet unbuckled, have your child shake their head to see if the helmet stays in place.
Over Here, Over There?
Helmeted and in possession of the right bicycle, you might think you hear neighborhood sidewalks and bike paths calling to you and your progeny. But safety experts agree that a traffic-free, paved area that is large, flat, and smooth – such as a tennis or basketball court – is easier and safer to learn on. Once there, have your child practice getting on and off several times. You'll also want to help your kid practice braking before they actually need it.
Before you know it, your child will be nagging you constantly to ride their bike, and they will abandon the training wheels in favor of speed. Riding bikes together counts as one of the ultimate family activities, and as summer winds down, families can squeeze in not only a few more bike rides but also these fun suggestions from EduKit.
A Look Ahead
EduKit, which offers families bundled school supplies in custom kits, offers parents advice on a range of topics like "How to Get Your Children Back Into a School Routine," and "Spread the School Spirit With Personalized School Planners."
But before the school bell rings to signal the beginning of a new academic year, approximately 795,600 five-year-olds will add their names to the long list of bicyclists. A parent's investment in their child as a cyclist will pay dividends for decades. And maybe one day, when you're least expecting it, your little bicyclist will say thank you.