Riding a bicycle can be an extremely beneficial strategy for helping a child learn to cross their midline or develop core body strength. All children can benefit from this, but one of my children needs a little extra help in both of these areas. So my husband and I set a goal to teach each of our children to ride a bike and to provide them with opportunities to learn street safety.
The first step was to make sure they had bicycles and helmets that were the right fit for them.
My oldest son is very tall. He needs a larger bicycle than his twin sister who is a few inches shorter than him. Our youngest son is a little small for his age. He fits perfectly on a child bicycle still. We were able to purchase bicycles as gifts Christmas. If you’re looking for a bicycle for your child to learn on, I suggest NOT getting a shiny, brand-new one like we did. With the inevitable falls that come with learning, it’s likely that the bicycle will not look new for long anyway. I suggest looking for the size you want at one of Albuquerque’s great Thrift Stores or on Facebook Marketplace-local.
After you find the right bicycles and helmets, it’s time to get started!
We started by having a talk with our kids about what it feels like to be able to ride a bike. We told them that it’s hard work, it might hurt sometimes if you fall, we would work together to help each other, and that the benefits of being able to zoom around on your own will make it all worth it! They were on board.
Then I realized I didn’t know how to teach them!
In the past, we had tried small bicycles with training wheels in the driveway, assuming they would figure it out. They didn’t. Now, I did what I do best. I took to YouTube and found Isla Rowntree . Her great advice gave me just the tips and tools I needed to confidently wheel a bike out into the street.
I realized I couldn’t teach all three children to ride at the same time, so I picked the hardest one and got started. If the others learned first, he would feel that much more discouraged. He needed the win!
As Isla suggested, we started with balance.
My son is a BIG boy . . . tall and thick, but also a little clumsy. It took a lot of work to get him onto the bike confidently. He kept falling down just trying to get a foot over the middle of the bike. Isla’s tip about putting the back wheel between your legs was SO helpful. I didn’t hold the handlebars or control the bike. I just offered the balance he needed. Then as he got started with the pedals, I gave support under his armpits. I did not direct the bike. He needed to correlate his actions and movements to the movements of the bike.
It was terrible at first. His whole body kept folding downward and I would lift him up while letting the bike crash. My arms were sore for days, and his bike will never look brand new again. But he learned that every action has a reaction. What a valuable lesson! After about an hour of working on balance with me running next to him to hold him up if he fell, he told me to let go! It was so exciting! He still needed practice getting on his bike, starting and stopping, and TURNING. But we focused on one skill each day, and he was so excited when he mastered each step! He did fall down SEVERAL times.
Since we had already talked about falling and the importance of getting back up again, he was able to think about what had gone wrong and make an effort to do better next time.
Now it was the next kiddo’s turn. She is lighter than her brother, and tends to do well in athletic tasks. Her difficulty came more from FEAR. She was terrified of falling. She kept sitting on her still bike, trying to make herself master balance without moving at all (as if she was Yoda or Rei). I used the same tactics with her.
She felt safe because I was with her, and she knew I would lift her up if she fell.
We also talked about the importance of legs! If you start to feel unbalanced, gently stick both legs out to catch yourself. She tried to ride like that for awhile, then realized she wouldn’t move forward because the pedals weren’t moving. It took her about 45 minutes to catch on. She was so excited!
Then it only took about 10 minutes with two kids riding on our very long street before they crashed into each other. Just because they can ride their bike, doesn’t mean they have the maturity, self-awareness, or control to avoid accidents. Their crash brought up conversations about street safety, awareness, and having a plan when someone appears to be coming into your bubble.
Make sure your kids are in a LARGE, car-free, open space, free of bumps when they first learn to ride.
With our youngest, we had some debate about whether we should leave his training wheels on the bike or teach him to ride without them. I felt strongly that he was ready to learn. He has great balance and tends to be daring and determined. I didn’t want to wait too long like I felt we did with our older kids. The bigger you are, the harder you fall! Our oldest son made the decision for us. He was messing around on his brother’s tiny bike and bent the heck out of the training wheels by crashing in the street. We pulled the trainers off and it was little brother’s turn to learn.
His big sister wanted to teach him.
I hadn’t realized how much she picked up from how I taught her. She held his bike between her legs as he got onto it, and offered him support under his armpits as he started to balance and ride. He took much less time than the other two. Perhaps, he had been watching and learning from them. Or maybe he wasn’t as afraid of falling. (It probably doesn’t hurt as bad when you weigh 70 lb less and are closer to the ground.) I wish we had taught the older two to ride when they were younger. The thought of a busy street with cars zooming by made me feel it would be too hard or unsafe. It didn’t occur to me to take them to a park or empty parking lot. I guess it’s better late than never.
I’m so glad we set a family goal to learn to ride a bike!
It’s been a wonderful way to learn life skills, spend time together, and develop healthier bodies! It was time well spent. I only wish we had invested in elbow and knee pads a little sooner. It would have saved us from a few scrapes and tears. I guess I’m the one who needed to learn that lesson. Prevention and planning ahead are keys to a happier, safer experience!
I hope your family bicycling adventures are wonderful!
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