How to teach a child to ride a bike?
Well we have all heard the phrase “as easy as riding a bike”, which is often used to refer to something that is never forgotten once learned.
Learning how to ride a bicycle is a near-universal rite of passage for kids, and it is a skill that becomes imprinted into our muscle memory, never to be forgotten once learned.
However, that’s not to say that it’s an easy skill to learn.
Cycling is a great activity for children to learn at an early age.
In a world where entertainment and learning are increasingly digitised and screen-based, cycling is a fun-filled activity that could not only provide parents with a great option for outdoor exercise for their children, but it is also an activity that parents can do with their kids.
The benefits of getting your child on a bicycle are many, including development of their coordination, balance, concentration and cardiovascular health.
Cycling outdoors also helps develop children’s awareness of their surroundings and provides opportunities for activity-based socialization and interaction with others.
In this article we will go into:
- How kids learn new skills,
- exactly when do kids learn to ride a bike (and when should they),
- what you will need to teach your child to ride a bike,
- and we will lay out clear steps for how to teach a child to ride a bike – both pedal and balance.
Riding A Bike: Harder Than It Looks
Riding a bike is seemingly simple, but it is in fact a complex skill to acquire. Among the factors that affect the ease with which a child can learn to ride the bike are:
Gross, visual and sensory motor skills
This means that maintaining balance on the bike requires engaging not only large groups of muscles, but also adequately developed hand-eye coordination.
This means the ability to use both sides of the body to perform an activity.
On a bicycle, this involves things like pedalling movement which in which both legs take turns to apply force to the pedals, as well as steering the bike by holding the handlebar with both hands and controlling components such as gear shifters and brakes.
Leg and core strength
Some muscular strength is required to propel the bicycle forward by pushing on the pedals, and core muscles are engaged to maintain the upright posture on the bike while in motion.
How do kids learn new skills?
While we won’t go deep into child psychology in this article, there are a few facts to understand about how children learn new skills that will be very useful when it comes to teaching your child how to ride a bike:
Children develop skills through sensory play
While you may want to focus on balance and control on the bike, what might be best during the early stages is to let them get to know their bicycle by touching it and talking about it before actually trying to ride it.
The vestibular system is still under development.
So be very patient.
The vestibular system is the sensory system in our inner ear responsible for most of our spatial orientation and sense of balance.
At such an early age, this system is still a bit of a work-in-progress, and the activity of learning to ride a bike is actually one of the best ways to help develop it.
Children learn by visual observation and behavioural emulation
It is well established that kids will often copy what their parents say or do. With this in mind, you can encourage your child to start learning how to ride is to have them watch you ride yours!
When to start teaching your kid to ride?
Most, but not all, kids have the muscular development, dexterity and ability to understand and follow basic instructions at around ages 3-4.
Do keep in mind that – even though it would be ideal to start as early as possible – not all kids will be ready at the same age, and some will not have the muscular or emotional readiness to acquire this complex skill as early as others.
I have started introducing my son to two-wheeled fun just after his third birthday, but the right timing might be different for your own child.
When you can start teaching your kid how to ride a bicycle will depend on the child’s mental and physical development.
The most significant factor in determining when to start getting your kid on a bicycle might be whether or not they seem to want to do that.
With my own child, he started out with much excitement, lost interest for a few weeks (which, I have come to learn and accept, is part of the process), then the desire to get back on the bike was rekindled.
Patience and gentle encouragement are critical. Being pushy and rushing this process is counterproductive.
My boy just turned four, and even with one year of practicing riding his bike, there is always the ebb and flow of interest in getting out for a ride, and it is not always possible to know what diminishes or reignites interest in biking.
Being a keen cyclist myself, there is always the temptation to be a little pushy with nudging him into getting out on the bike.
Nevertheless, I’ve learned to remind myself that at this stage, it’s OK if he loses interest in the bike! It’s part of how kids get to know and learn about their world at this stage.
What you and your child will need
You will need a helmet that properly fits your child’s head.
Falling is part of the process of learning to ride a bike, and despite what the tears and tantrums may indicate, kids are very resilient.
That said, it is critical to take all measures protect against potential head injury. The same goes for you if you’re going to be doing any demonstrations on your own bike. Lead by example!
Location, location, location:
Pick an open and safe space, free of hazards, large obstacles or distractions.
While it is tempting to choose a location with soft ground, like a grassy field, it is actually better to start the lessons on a harder surface that will make it easier for the little one to get up to speed on without fighting against a soft ground sapping their energy.
Your kid’s first bike:
While many of us learned to ride with training wheels (aka stabilizers), the ‘new school’ of getting youngsters on two wheels is based on using balance bikes.
Balance bikes are essentially bicycles without cranks or pedals. Just a frame, fork handlebar and wheels.
Balance bikes are available in sizes suitable for kids from walking age (i.e. 18 months) to around four years old. You can also turn a bike made for an older kid into a balance bike simply by removing the pedals.
A balance bike allows the child to propel themselves forward by pushing with their feet on the ground, allowing the them to focus on balancing and steering the bike rather than figuring out the complex skill of engaging and pushing on the pedals.
A balance bike is also safer to start learning on, as kids can simply use their feet to slow down.
Balance bikes offer a learning mode that is more intuitive than turning a bicycle’s crank, because it is involves familiar motor skills (i.e. literally walking their bike).
How To Teach a Child To Ride a Bike- Balance Bike- 4 Steps:
Step 1: Mounting
Start by practicing getting on and off the bike.
Familiarize your child with being on top of the bike and make sure the saddle height is set low enough for them to be able to place their feet on the ground.
Step 2: Controlled Scooting + Steering Practice
Ask them to start pushing with their feet and scoot forward.
While you may feel the need to support them by holding the handlebar, it is best to try to do this by holding the bike saddle or supporting the child’s upper body.
Allowing free movement of the handlebar is essential for them to start learning how to steer the bike.
Staying at this step for a few practices is typical – every child has their own pace.
Step 3: Look Ahead
Encourage them to look ahead, not down.
Get your child drilling this for a while, and then incorporate in some turns – this way, the child can keep practicing without your intervention.
When turning, remind the child to look where they want to go – and the bike will turn that direction like magic!
Step 4: Gliding (Feet Up)
Once they’re confident enough to pick up some speed, encourage them to lift their feet up and glide.
Run alongside, give a gentle push and let go allowing them to glide on their own. If there is a spill (and there will most certainly be some tumbles!), offer words of encouragement.
Next Steps: How To Teach a Child To Ride a Bike – Pedal Bike
Once your child is confident enough to stride, coast and change direction on the balance bike, then you might consider moving on to a pedal bike!
With a pedal bike, you can start building upon the foundational balance skill that your child would have by now, and the skill progression would look something like this:
- Starting to pedal from a stationary position, picking both feet off the ground and placing them on the pedals without looking down, getting up to speed.
- Using the brakes to slow down or come to a complete stop.
- Unassisted mounting and dismounting
- Steering and cornering
- Shifting (if their bike is equipped with a multi-speed drivetrain).
Learning how to teach a child to ride a bike can be simultaneously a very rewarding and a very frustrating process.
Remember to keep it fun: this is what the process should be all about. If your child isn’t having fun, stop and come back to it another day.
There is no point in forcing it. Be patient and don’t rush the process.
Kids learn new skills in different ways. You might have to experiment with various methods to teach some skills that may be particularly challenging.
Once your child has managed to learn how to ride a bike, you can then take it one step further to make cycling outings a family activity.
Now that you know how to teach a child to ride a bike, why not look to the future to some awesome cycling adventures!
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