Learning to ride a bike is a major childhood milestone for most kids providing a sense of freedom and increased independence. While the ultimate goal of self-propelled locomotion is no doubt thrilling, developing the skill can be tedious and frustrating. Fear not! Here are some tips for you to help your kiddo coast right through the learning stage and on to their free wheelin’ days ahead!
The very first thing your kiddo needs is the appropriate equipment both for size and safety. The staff at your local bike shop can help you with choosing the appropriate sized bike for your child’s age and size but it’s important to know some of the basics making adjustments as your child grows. Your child should be able to stand over their bike with both feet planted flat on the ground with 1-2 inches of clearance. Their seat height should allow a small bend in the knee when the pedals are at their lowest position. The handlebars should be at an appropriate distance to where there is a slight bend in their elbow to allow them to turn the wheel fully side to side without being overstretched. For safety a well-fitted helmet which sits across the middle of their forehead is required. For more information on sizing, fit, and safety tips check out the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s guidelines!
Now that we have the right equipment, let’s look at skills! Bike riding requires a combination of balance, strength, power, and coordination. For most learner’s the first big obstacle is balance! It can be much easier for your child to learn to start their bike once they have the balance to keep it upright! A good place to start working on balance is to remove the pedals and practice pushing the bike with their feet and coasting. You can make it fun by joining them and “racing” or picking a song to sing and see how far into the song you can get!
Next it’s time to practice steering, turning, and awareness. Start with wide turns and slowly progress to smaller, tighter turns. You can create an obstacle course with cones for your kiddo or narrate an “adventure!” Giving them a target encourages them to look ahead and be aware of their surroundings for safety while biking!
Starting and stopping their bike independently is often the last hurdle for kiddos and takes practice, practice, practice! Be there to steady your child with a hand on the back of their seat or at the side of a handlebar but let them learn how to feel the balance and correct themselves. Soon family bike rides will be a favorite weekend activity!
Here is an old blog post of ours on bike riding!
Posture is always an interesting topic. As adults we are often trying to improve our posture because we have started discovering that poor posture can cause other problems like pain. These are things we don’t think of when we are younger and don’t always think about for our kids. Posture is something that can and should be worked on from when kids are little so that they can hopefully avoid long term problems as they get older. I have to thank one of our readers for coming up with this idea!
Here are some tips and ideas for exercises/playing that can also work on posture:
- Make sure kids hamstrings stay flexible. Its a lot easier to keep them flexible than to stretch them later. When hamstrings are tight it can tip our pelvis backwards so that it flattens our low back spine. To help with keeping hamstrings flexible have kids avoid w-sitting and long periods of kneeling as these will both shorten the hamstrings. They should sit in a variety of positions such as ‘criss cross’ or with their legs straight out in front of them. Here are some different sitting positions.
- Core strength is really important. Some of my favorite ways to improve core strength for kids other than having them do sit ups are:
- Lots and lots of climbing. Since its getting nicer out this should be easier because parks are lots of fun. The more unstable the climbing surface the more they will have to work their stabilizers and abdominals. I love climbing nets or climbing domes. Even ladders work well for this.
- Animal walks are a lot of fun and really challenge the core. Some of our favorites are bear walking (hands and feet) or crab walking or dog/cat walking (straight crawling). You can have animal parades or animal races. You can change the terrain by going over uneven surfaces such as cushions or you can go up and down hills. You can make animal obstacle courses where they have to be the animal and go around cones, over obstacles and through tunnels.
- Use a therapy ball. Have your kids sit on it and move it around in all directions with fast and slow motions. Or have them bounce on it. Try to give as little stabilization as possible (try for just the legs) and make sure they aren’t using their hands to hold on. If you can get them to engage their hands in play such as clapping or touching their head or reaching to the sky it automatically encourages more upright posture. I will also have kids reach for items such as bean bags and then throw them for a target while sitting on the ball.
- Try sitting on an unstable surface. There are wedges or core discs that are out there that can provide the ability to wiggle while sitting and allow kids to keep their core active and engaged. You need to try it out though because sometimes it can be too challenging and they will just sink into a slumped posture. Also if you can make a sitting surface a little higher than normal so their feet still hit the ground it can encourage an upright posture more than sitting at 90/90. Or if you have a therapy ball that they can sit on with their feet on the ground while watching tv or doing other things it really works to keep the core active. You have to make sure that they are safe while doing this though.
- Swinging at the park especially when they are self propelling naturally engages the postural muscles such as the scapular retractors and the abs. In addition they get some great vestibular input.
- Bike riding is really fun and great for core strength and endurance. If you really want to get the core working ride up slight inclines and hills, they will have to use their arms and abs to generate power from their legs.
- Reaching in sitting will also encourage upright posture. Have them sit in a variety of positions or on a variety of surfaces and play games where you make them reach up and in front or to the side. Watch their posture to make sure they are engaging their core muscles.
I probably have a ton of other ideas but this is a start. What are some of your favorite ‘exercises’ for encouraging improved posture with kids?
Do you ever feel like you are in a rut or play the same things over and over with your kids? Or maybe you start to run out of ideas of things to do to help them stay active. Well one solution is to let them come up with ideas. I am always amazed at what the kids will come up with when I let them use their imagination. Sometimes, they can be a little rusty but questions and guiding rather than telling can get their imagination sharpened pretty quick. Even the little ones you can let them choose a toy and then guide them to lead the play.
When I was home for Christmas last year my nephew was there and he was ready to play. He didn’t care that I had just gotten off a red-eye flight and wanted some much needed sleep. He was ready for us to be pirates and fight the bad guys and we couldn’t step on the lava (the carpets covering the hard wood floors). One minute we were on the same side and the next I was the bad guy and then we were friends again. We made it to the boat (his bed) but unfortunately it was broken so he needed to use his tools to fix it. At this point I was able to close my eyes (especially since I was on the bed) and informed him that I was guarding the prisoners (my two dogs who were coerced onto the bed with us – a twin bed I might add). It was amazing to see his imagination run away with only a few words or questions from me. And, we did climbing and running and hopping and crawling and tiptoeing and rolling during our adventures as pirates.
Now, you can definitely start simpler than that. For example a little girl I work with and I go on an adventure each week while we practice bike riding. It involves going over mountains (bumps in the sidewalks) and going over rivers (streams from sprinklers). I suggest the adventure but I let her lead and I ask questions like ‘what do you think we’ll see on the other side of the mountain’. Sometimes our adventures lead us to the park and we get to pretend on the play structure.
If you can’t make it outside use the cushions from your couch or even just the couch and the floor and a toy and let your child’s (and your) imagination run wild. I bet you’ll surprise yourself with how much fun you will have and you can work on their gross motor skills at the same time!
I would love to hear your stories of imaginative play and activities with your kids – please share your great ideas.
With the holidays upon us I thought I would offer some ideas for gifts for your little ones. I will be referring to some old posts throughout that may have touched on some toy/gift ideas!
The first two posts are the Motor Smart Toys and Tips. Both the first and the second one offered great toy ideas and ways to use them to not only have fun with your child but to encourage gross motor skills. Strategies for Tummy Time and To Crawl or Not to Crawl both offered ideas as well.
Bike Riding offers several ideas for wheeled toys for your children. Along with the ones mentioned in there I have a few more suggestions. For kids who need increased support and assistance with bike riding check out Freedom Concepts Tricycles. For those that need some help and aren’t able to use a typical tricycle at this time but have some trunk control there are the Me Too Trikes. In addition to the Skuut there are a multitude of other pedal-less bikes out there. For scooters I like Radio Flyer or Razor (which both come in all different levels).
For fine motor or sensory toys and ideas check out Fun Ideas for Sensory Exploration or 50 Toys in 50 Days also more ideas on Let Kids Play.
Some other ideas of our tried and true favorites have been listed on our website under Helpful Products, as well as other places to go looking for toys.
For iphone or ipod touch owners check out the games at Duck Duck Moose. Looking for something to keep kids occupied during the holiday meals that are sure to pop up? Check out Hello Hanna‘s great placemats!
I would love to know your child’s favorite toy or toys, or any ideas you have to share with parents, aunts, uncles, friends, etc who are looking to find the perfect gift for the special little ones in their life. Please post your ideas for all to share!