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!
A great way to work on core and upper body strength, as well as bilateral hand use is to put your climbing rope in a lycra swing. Its really hard to get any traction/stability from your feet and you get to rely on upper body and core strength to get yourself up high enough to rescue the monkey!
The kids find it to be hard work and are often exhausted after doing this activity but they get a great workout with it.
What are some variations that you can think of?
I’m loving the holiday season and I definitely have presents on the brain (it could be because its my birthday too)! With that said, what a great way to get kids involved and work on some fine motor skills than to have them help with wrapping the presents. Not only will they work on the following skills but they will also have a ton of pride when they give the gifts to their teachers or therapists or friends or siblings or parents (I could go on and on but I’m sure you get my drift)!
They will work on:
- Scissor skills to cut the paper
- Spatial awareness for measuring how much paper they need
- Visual motor skills to fold the paper and line up the edges
- Bilateral coordination to use both hands to fold the paper, hold it still while applying tape, cutting the paper
- Hand strengthening to firmly fold the edges and push down on the tape
- And ripping tape (which is fun) works on a bunch of skills – grasp patterns, hand strength and bilateral upper extremity coordination
Now I know that it will probably take longer to wrap presents with your ‘helper’ but think of how much fun they will have and the skills they are working on!
This post was written by Sarah Girard OTR/L
Cutting can be a frustrating task for some of our kids. It requires motor planning, fine motor strength, bilateral hand use, and visual motor skills. I’ve found it more attention grabbing with kids if I’m switching up materials that we are using to cut with. Cutting straws has been very entertaining for some of my little guys. When you cut a straw piece, it launches either up in the air or in a random direction away from the child. When it launches towards you as a therapist or a parent , it is usually followed by a series of giggles and a request to do it again. Once the entire straw is cut, I’ve been turning it into a beading activity. They can string them onto pipe cleaners, shoe laces, etc. the beading piece of this activity works on eye-hand coordination, modulation and bilateral hand use. In the end they have a product of all their hard work to take home.
Since its the holiday season, and my nephew was over visiting again, we decided to make gingerbread men. Luckily the dough was already made (downside is we didn’t get to work on the skills/benefits listed in the cookie dough post) but we got to do everything else!
We worked on bilateral coordination and upper extremity/hand strengthening while we used our hands to make the dough into a round ball and then we used a rolling pin to roll it out flat.
There was some more bilateral coordination as well as precision when we used the cookie cutter to cut the shape and then peel the excess dough away from our cut out so we could put the cookie on the tray.
Once they were cooked we got to decorate them. We used icing and little candies which allowed us to work on pincer grasp, precision, and hand strengthening for squeezing out the icing. Although we only decorated a few like men and the rest were more abstract, it can also be used to work on body awareness by decorating eyes, nose, mouth, hands, feet, etc.
The best part of course was eating them when we were finished!
We have a few of the Perplexus models here because I think they are really cool. For those of you who have never seen them they are a clear globe with a complex track inside that is broken up by colors and you need to keep a small ball on the track from the start to the end. It is a great way to work on motor planning, visual motor skills, and bilateral coordination.
I recently decided to try the ‘rookie’ with my kiddo who has spastic quadriplegia CP. I wasn’t sure how it would go based on his physical challenges but I knew intellectually he was bright enough to know what to do. It was really interesting to watch him try to work it out. First I demonstrated it to him and he talked me through which way to turn the globe so that the ball stays on the track. He was able to verbally instruct me as well as point to the direction of movement that I needed to move the globe. Clearly he understood the concept of it.
Next I gave it to him. He concentrated so hard on it but had a really hard time moving the globe within his hands. It was easier for him to keep his hands stable on the globe and try to twist it. When he did this the ball frequently fell off the track. I began working with him on how to turn the globe within his hands. I used some hand over hand and step by step verbal cues and he began to get the hang of it. He needed to use a lot of extra stabilization such as with his chest and his chin while he attempted to move his hands without the globe moving with them. He also did a great job of maintaining an upright posture while doing this activity. He has a tendency to slouch when sitting in a chair and performing activities with his hands so it was great to see that this game allowed him to maintain his postural stability much better than normal.
I would say with a kiddo like this the motor planning required for the bilateral coordination of his hands and then integrating the visual is what it really works on. Whats great is that because it is broken up by color you can create goals such as get to the red track and then get to the purple track, so that they don’t get frustrated when the ball falls off the track. When I did step in and help a bit I had him continue to direct how we should turn it so that he was able to continue his intellectual and visual problem solving.
How have you used the Perplexus?
Ok, we are big fans of Harry Potter so when I saw this post on how to make your own wand, I had to pass it along to our OT’s because I thought not only could it be ‘therapeutic’ in that kids could work on skills, but it would also be motivating. This wand was made over several weeks and our OT and her kiddo would do a little bit each session. It let the kiddo think about how they wanted the wand to develop and take the time to put the colors and designs in that she wanted. This kiddo has a left hemiplegia so it really allowed her to work on using both hands to create the project. She had to use her stabilizing hand to hold the stick while wrapping the string, also both hands need to be used for threading and tying knots to name a few. I think the best thing it works on is encouraging a child to express their creativity and individuality in a way that can evolve with the project.
Here is another idea one of my OT’s had. They had already introduced the benefits of tearing paper but now they wanted to show why crumpling paper was beneficial.
Besides making really cute craft projects, crumpling paper also works on:
- Hand and Finger Strength – grade it to make it harder or easier by using different weight paper i.e. card stock vs tissue paper vs plain printing paper
- In Hand Manipulation Skills – have the kiddo use one hand to try crumpling the paper (if they master their dominant hand have them try it in their non-dominant hand)
- Bilateral Coordination – have them use two hands together to crumple the paper and you can grade it by going from large paper to smaller paper
- Visual Motor – turn it into a mini basketball game by taking old paper/newspaper and crumpling it and then trying to toss it into a recycle bin or other bucket
How else have you used crumpling paper?
Okay, so it doesn’t have to be PB&J (aka peanut butter and jelly) sandwiches but that’s the example I’m going to use because that’s the example my OT gave me, and because its what I lived on as a kid (it was a sad day when my mom would mix up my strawberry jelly and my brother’s grape jelly). I love this idea because I think there are things that are beneficial for fine and gross motor here but also it works on self help skills as well.
I know in the beginning have a kiddo make their own lunch is probably a time consuming thing that will make more mess and involve more work for you. But, if you think of it as therapeutic and learning time then the extra time may be worth it!
Here are a few of the benefits of making a PB&J sandwich:
- First, there is planning and sequencing involved such as what needs to happen first, what do I need to have to make it and figuring out the steps that go with it. You could make a picture diagram for the kiddo that can understand and have them try to follow the directions. Or even better, have a velcro board with the steps lying in front and the kiddo gets to organize the steps on the velcro board and then see how they did when they try to follow the directions in the order they laid out. (This sounds like such a better plan then when I used to have to write instructions for assignments in grade school on how to do something)
- Second, they get to work on opening the jars which involves grip strength, motor planning, and bilateral coordination. The child needs to be able to stabilize the jar with their helper hand, grip the lid with their other hand and motor plan how to turn the lid while stabilizing the jar.
- Third, there is removing the peanut butter and or jelly from the jar and transferring it to the bread. This involves hand-eye coordination, some upper extremity strength (especially for the peanut butter), bilateral coordination for using a helper hand. They also get to work on using some isolated wrist/forearm movements. If they are really good at this you can challenge them on this step and the next step to use their opposite hand.
- Fourth, when they are spreading the ingredients on the bread it takes hand eye coordination, bilateral coordination with the helper hand stabilizing while the other hand coordinates spreading the peanut butter and/or jelly.
- Fifth, they get to practice hand-eye coordination while putting the two slices of bread together!
You can make the activity even more fun by using cookie cutters to cut shapes out of the bread which will add to the upper extremity strength required.
Enough time spent practicing this self-help skill and your kiddo can be a full time helper!!
What other ideas have you tried?