There’s nothing quite like the feeling of riding a bike- speeding along, wind through your hair and the world whizzing by. This is what makes learning to ride a bike one of the milestones children look forward to the most, and one that parents celebrate. It’s also such an important milestone because it indicates a level of physical and cognitive skills, and encourages outdoor play and physical exercise. Learning to ride a bike is a period of learning and adjustment and it’s helpful for parents to understand how to best support their kids through this, so this article will provide a brief overview of how to teach kids to ride a bike.
How to know when to start
Learning to ride a bike begins long before kids start riding a bicycle. Many physical and cognitive skills are needed to be able to balance the bike, push the pedals and have an awareness of moving through the space around them, so they’re practicing every day with other activities like running, using play equipment and sports. Because children learn these skills at different rates, they will be ready to ride a bike at varying ages, but typically children are ready around 5-6 years of age.
Before your child is ready for a bike, you could consider giving them another style of bike to ride, such as a balance bike or a bike with training wheels, to begin learning some of the necessary skills.
Balance bikes are essentially bikes without pedals; your child sits on the seat, and uses their legs to push themselves along, and once they’ve got the hang of this they can learn to scoot and glide. These bikes are a good place to start because they can be used from 18 months old, and they help children master balance which is one of the harder skills associated with riding a bike. They’re also great fun, and because kids can go fast it makes going for walks as a family a lot easier. It’s important to keep in mind that they may be able to go fast on balance bikes before they are able to comprehend traffic rules or assess risks, so kids must be closely supervised.
Bikes with training wheels help kids to learn the pedalling aspect of riding a bike rather than balance. Learning to coordinate the repetitive rhythm and strength of pedalling can be difficult for children, but they can use a bike with training wheels as soon as they’re able to grasp this concept.
Whether your child has been riding a balance bike or a bike with training wheels (or no bikes at all), taking the next step to a bicycle will be a steep learning curve. It’s important your child fits the bike well, as this will impact how easily they transition. If you’re buying a new bike, it’s wise to get your child fitted at a bike store (and purchase a fitted helmet), and if you’re taking the training wheels off their bike make sure it still fits your child- you may need to lower the seat, as children should be able to place their feet flat on the ground when sitting on their bike.
Find somewhere quiet and safe for your child’s training sessions, so that they can concentrate on getting the hang of the skills involved without worrying about other people or traffic.
First, have your child practice getting on and off the bike, and then try ‘scooting’ by using their feet to push the bike along to practice balancing before starting to pedal. Once they’re comfortable balancing, you can hold the bike stationary while they practice using the pedals, and using the brakes.
You can then help them to try riding with your support, by putting a hand on their back and another on their arm to guide them (avoid holding the bike as this can put them off balance). Once they’re balancing and pedalling comfortably with your support, try short distances without assistance and gradually increase the distance as their confidence grows, staying close by in case they need your help.
Some more tips to keep in mind:
- Keep training sessions short- learning to ride is mentally and physically tiring, so start with 30 minute or shorter sessions
- When they say they’re done for the day, even if it’s less than 30 minutes, trust their judgement and leave it there
- Keep it fun and light- try not to put pressure on your child, riding a bike is fun and learning shouldn’t be a stressful or competitive process
- If there’s no progress after 3 sessions, drop it for a few weeks and try again
With these tips on how to teach kids to ride a bike as a starting point, you can support your child wherever they are on their bike riding journey. Be led by their interest and level of ability, and watch as they take it in their stride when they’re ready.
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