With many little ones finding balance bikes under the tree this year, a balance bike primer seemed fitting for our first blog of the year!
Does this scenario sound familiar to you? You’re all excited about the shiny new balance bike you scored for your little guy or gal’s birthday, Christmas, etc. You’ve seen neighbors and kids at the park whip by on tiny bikes, powered by running feet, and zoom past, gliding for what seems like forever. The other Mamas in your playgroup/facebook group/cul de sac have all SWORN that you MUST get a balance bike and that your future cyclist will be riding independently in no time. Back to Christmas morning/birthday- your little one tries to get on to their new balance bike and falls over in the process, cueing the first of many teary episodes. On its maiden voyage, your child alternates between dragging it behind them, trying to carry it, and walking with it between their legs. You frustratingly encourage him or her to “sit on the seat, and use your feet to move forward” but its as if you are speaking a foreign language. Worse yet, they want YOU to push, leading to terrible back strain as you bend over and attempt to hold them upright and move the bike forward. Soon enough, the balance bike is cast aside, lonely, in the garage, and you’ve written it off as a total waste of money.
While this experience isn’t universal, and some children immediately pick up the “run, run, glide” motion needed to propel a balance bike, for many children, it takes time and experience to develop trust and coordination to begin testing balance and using the bike “the right way”. “The right way” being in quotes as there is no single right way to use a balance bike- children explore and use differently based on age, personality, and experience. Here are some tips for making the most of your balance bike days- please don’t give up too soon as it truly is the easiest way to learn to ride a bike and you WILL find your young one able to pedal confidently that much sooner. Balance bike riders develop bike handling and turning skills that will serve them well on pedal bikes, unlike training wheels, and balance bikes allow little people to explore terrain that is more difficult than would otherwise be possible on a pedal bike.
PEDALPOWER KIDS’ TIPS FOR BALANCE BIKE SUCCESS
- Temper Your Expectations– Every time your child interacts with his or her balance bike, they are developing spatial awareness, balance and motor skills. Like every other developmental milestone, your child will do it at his or her own pace. Cheer for the little moments (getting on the bike independently and holding both grips! Yay!) and don’t try to push the pace. Picking up one’s feet to glide requires trust, which develops in time as a child tests and observes the outcome.
- Proper Set Up is a Must– First things first- get the seat height properly adjusted on your child’s balance bike so that their feet are flat on the ground with a slight bend in the knee. This will allow them to sit comfortably on the seat throughout the “running” motion and also provide enough leverage to really push feet off the ground. Too high and they’ll lack the leverage and power to propel the bike, too low and they’ll feel hunched over and be more prone to standing and walking with the bike vs. running and gliding. As we say at PedalPower Kids, “superglue your bum to the seat!”…. every kid in the world giggles when bums are brought into the conversation!
- How to Help, the Right Way– Your child, particularly if she or he is a bit more cautious, may beg for you to hold on to them as they’re starting to use the balance bike. The issue with holding onto them/the bike is that when you support the bike as its tipped to one side, the child mistakenly thinks the most stable place for the bike is tipped to one side. This is similar to why training wheels are problematic- children “learn” this false sense of balance that then needs to be unlearned to ride independently. You can support your child with a light hold on their clothing if needed, a good push to help experience gliding, and walking alongside for comfort and security.
- Bring It Inside– If your bike is new and relatively clean, and space allows in your home (basement playroom, etc), allow the bike inside for winter. Your child can explore, integrate the bike into games and playtime, and generally just get more comfortable with the bike without wind, snow and cold. Hardwood, tile, vinyl and low pile carpet surfaces all work- obviously, be careful that the bike is not near any staircases or other dangers.
- Be Creative– Like everything else in life, practice makes perfect, and most kids just need more “saddle time” on the balance bike to get comfortable and cruising. Encourage practice time with games and fun, which is what we do during our Balance Bike Playdate classes and Private Lessons. If your child is highly tactical, he or she might love running their bike over a textured surface (bubble wrap!) or into something (a tower of cardboard blocks might be fun!) We love to play pretend adventures, crossing rivers infested with alligators, hopping from island to island- sidewalk chalk is your friend! With sidewalk chalk, a jump rope and some training cones, you can create an obstacle course to keep them entertained and challenged!
- Get Social– We learn from doing and from observing- invite a friend or two to join you for a balance bike playdate. Watching other kids in action, particularly those who are bit more proficient, is often the boost a hesitant child might need to get gliding. Turn your neighborhood cul de sac into a race track and count laps! You can model using a balance bike yourself on a regular adult bike with the seat low enough to allow your feet to touch the ground. Almost every kid loves to chase and play tag!
- Call in Reinforcements– Let’s face it, sometimes our kids learn and perform better for anyone but us! I know this all too well as a parent, which was one of the original motivations in starting PedalPower Kids. My own daughter, now a proficient 8 year old bike girl extraordinaire, never really wanted much to do with a balance bike or my instruction! Just as we’ve engaged the experts to get her swimming like a fish and singing like an angel (work in progress!), we could have used a motivating and fun instructor to encourage her on the balance bike. Our Balance Bike playdates and Private/Semi-private lessons will do just that- we routinely have 2, 3, 4 and 5 year olds who start with us unwilling to even get on a balance bike and emerge as confident two wheel riders! Winter classes start January 8th and private lessons can start at any time.
If you found these tips useful, please share this blog with friends. If you are interested in hearing more tips for building the foundations for a lifetime of bike riding, we’d love to speak to your parents’ group or school audience this winter. We also put on Bike Rodeos and Learn to Ride days for preschools, daycares, moms clubs and more- contact us to discuss.
If you are in the market for a balance bike, we recommend Woom bikes, the best quality and lighest-weight kid-specific bikes available. We have a complete fleet of demo bikes for you to try- let us know if you are in the market and we are happy to help you select the right size bike for your child.
Happy Gliding and Riding in 2019!