What comes to mind when you think of teaching a child to ride a bike? A nervous child wobbling on a bike with a grown up running behind the bike, hanging on to the bike seat?
Here’s a different approach, one that worked with my own four children and few other kids. You don’t need special bikes, gadgets, No bike alterations are required.
Despite being a teacher and homeschooling mom, I didn’t think much about teaching my kids to ride a bike. I figured they would learn the traditional way, you know, what you see on TV: Kid gets on bike. Adult holds the seat of the bike while running behind the bike. The kid wobbles a bit and then takes off.
Yeah. It didn’t work like that.
After a few frustrating sessions with my oldest guinea pig child, I knew there must be a better way to teach him to ride a bike. Better for him and better for me. (I even made a video showing you how to teach your child to ride a bike.)
That better way was a “discovery based” approach to learning to ride a bike. It depends on the child’s readiness, the right equipment, a few key concepts and letting the child learn through exploration.
Is your child ready to ride a bike without training wheels?
How do you know if you’re child is ready to ride a two-wheeler? Here are a few things to consider.
Interest Does your child want to learn to ride a two-wheeler? Just because neighbor Johnny rode a two-wheeler at three years old doesn’t mean your child has to. Don’t pressure him. A direct request to remove the training wheels or comments about wanting to ride a two-wheeler are good indicators of interest.
Fear Factor Some kids have no fear, others have nothing but fear. Forcing your child to ride a bike when she is down-to-the-bone scared will end up frustrating both of you. On the other hand, if she’s simply a little nervous, some encouragement is a good thing. Use your parental wisdom when deciding whether to “push or pause” in this matter.
Physical Ability The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that most children are ready to ride a bike without training wheels at about five or six years old. If your child is especially athletic, she may be ready earlier. Again, use good judgment.
What equipment will help your child learn to ride a bike?
Correct Size Bike Your child must be comfortable with the bike. A child will feel more in control of a smaller bike. The balls of his feet should reach the ground. He must be able to reach the handlebars easily. Don’t buy a bike for your child to grow into. An over-sized bike can be hard to control and intimidating. (The American Academy of Pediatrics offers more information on choosing the right size bike. )
Helmet Make sure you child wears one. Again, the American Academy of Pediatrics has a wealth of information about bicycle helmets.
Where should your child learn to ride a bike?
Here are a few things to consider when choosing a place to start your child’s bike adventure:
Surface Look for a flat surface which is fairly clear of obstacles, large and small. An empty parking lot or an outdoor basketball court are options. Though a hard surface is ideal, one of my daughters started practicing in our front yard.
Inclines Hills can be helpful, if your child isn’t afraid of them. One of my daughters decided to use my neighbor’s sloping driveway. The downhill momentum helped her learn to balance more quickly.
Basic Bike Rding Concepts
Some kids won’t care about these principles, some may benefit from hearing them. Either way, they can serve as your guiding principles.
Pedaling makes you go. Duh. This seems obvious, but if your child doesn’t have trike or other pedaling experience, he may not understand this all important fact.
Balancing is easier when you’re moving. To illustrate this, have your child try to balance on the bike without pedaling. Explain that balancing will be easier the faster she pedals.
Catch yourself when you start to fall. Before he is able to go fast he will go slow, which means he will be off balance more. This is why you teach him to put a foot down to stop the fall.
Now, you’re ready for the practical application of all that bike riding knowledge.
Easy Steps to Teach Your Child to Ride a Bike
1) Give her time to explore the two-wheeler on her own. Maybe it’s new to her because the training wheels just came off or because it’s a new bike. Either way, allow her to become familiar with the bike.
Take a cue from your child as to how much you should be involved. Of course, you’ll want to be nearby to supervise, but you don.t have to hover unless she wants you to.
2) Next, teach your child to the “pedal foot, ground foot” rhythm. One foot is on the ground, the other foot on the pedal. Push the “pedal foot” down and put it on the ground. Repeat with the other foot. The goal now is to get familiar with the process, not speed.
3) Teach him to fall. Because he isn’t going fast he will have lots of opportunities to practice stopping his fall. Teach him to put his foot down on the side he starts to fall towards. For example, if starts to fall to the right, put the right foot down.
4) Let her practice, offering support and guidance, including the bike riding concepts mentioned above, as you see fit.
This starts off a bit awkwardly, but it works. Using this method, a few of my kids’ friends learned to ride a bike after spending an afternoon at my house. That’s when I knew I was onto something.
My parting advice: relax and give your child time to learn through doing. With a little time and encouragement you will have a new member of the two-wheeler club.
Here's my video, with the help of an awesome biker.