Spend time on Facebook and it won’t take long to discover a post with someone waxing nostalgic about how childhood worked in their day. A lot of this is nonsense (great, you survived not wearing a seatbelt: you were lucky, not right), but they do have one point: kids today don’t spend nearly enough time riding bikes.
While riding bikes to school was once common practice, Active Healthy Kids Australia’s 2015 found that 90 per cent of kids aged between 5 and 17 never ride a bike to and from school. Other research by VicHealth suggest the main reason is parental fear about children travelling unaccompanied, with concerns around their children safely navigating traffic or being approached by “weirdos”.
Not only is riding a bike a great way physical activity for kids, it’s also useful for the development of motor, spatial and practical coping skills, helping kids develop independence, responsibility, and a sense of identity, building confidence and social skills, and helping them to get a sense of their neighbourhood.
No one is suggesting that you should pop your three-year-old on a tricycle and leave them out on the street without adequate supervision, but it’s useful to start developing bike riding skills and traffic awareness early so that when the time comes for them to start exploring the neighbourhood more widely on their own, the quality of their bike skills is one less thing to worry about.
When buying your child’s first bike, it’s hard to decide whether to buy a traditional bike with training wheels or get a balance bike where your child can touch the ground with their feet and use them to propel themselves along instead of pedalling.
While many of us grew up learning to ride a bike by using training wheels, there’s a strong case that balance bikes are a better way to go. Riding a bike requires your child to master two main skills: peddling and balance. Peddling is the easier skill to learn, as anyone who has witnessed a toddler, who can barely be trusted to walk in a straight line without falling over, quickly master a peddle car can attest. It’s learning to balance that’s hard and that’s precisely what training wheels take out of the equation, meaning they get heaps of practice with the easy part and very little of the tricky stuff.
In the book Bicycling Science, MIT engineering professor David Gordon Wilson was particularly scathing about training wheels “It’s hard to see how training wheels can inculcate any of the desired balancing habits, unless they are off the ground.” He suggests “the commonsense idea of having those learning to ride a bicycle adjust the bicycle’s seat low enough to plant their feet on the ground and practice by coasting down gentle, grassy slopes.”
If you want to convert your child’s current bike into a balance bike, here are some instructions on how to do it. It also explains how to teach your child to ride a balance bike and then eventually introduce pedals. If they don’t have one already, or they can’t put their feet on the floor with their current bike, it’s worth investing in balance bike as a first step.
By teaching kids to ride a bike, we not only give them an opportunity to stay active, but help them deliver a series of skills that will serve them beyond the bike path.
Caring4Kids is excited to announce that we have partnered with Strong Sports and until October 31, 2016 you can get a Bladerunna Balance bike for $150, that’s a saving of $15. Visit our Facebook Page for the discount code and while you’re there, why not give us a like so you can follow all our news.