Learning to ride a bike is a big milestone in a child's life and even though it's the end of summer, you still have a time to teach your child how to ride a bike. By breaking bike riding into small sections, you and your child will have less frustration and more fun. A child essentially needs 3 major skills to learn to ride a bike:
Skill 1 - Balance: Balance is the first skill that your child needs to achieve. If your child has used a balance bike you are off to a great start! Being able to balance and know where their body is in space, is the only way they will be able to accomplish biking. If your child has not used a balance bike, it's not a problem, just remove the pedals from their current bike and viola you essentially have a balance bike. Focus on coasting with the feet off the ground with their eyes focused straight ahead towards the path they are traveling.
Skill 2 - Steering/Navigating: Once your child is comfortable balancing on the bike, turn your focus to steering with the handlebars while watching the path ahead. To do this, have your child practice turning the handlebars right, left, and middle while the bike is stationary. Make it a fun game by seeing how many times they can correctly turn the handlebars as you call out the directions in various orders. To help your child keep their focus directly on the road or path ahead, use a colored object or even a person to stand at least 30 feet in front of the bike, while they are practicing turning the handlebars in a stationary position. This helps children learn to focus on two skill areas at the same time.
Skill 3 - Pedaling: Pedaling sounds like a straightforward skill and it is, but the challenge comes when it is time to put all the biking skills together at one time. If your child has had a tricycle or a bike with training wheels, you know that they can probably pedal the bike easily. As a parent, you want to ensure that they keep moving forward on the bike (focusing on balancing, steering, and navigating), and if they forget to pedal you are there to help give them a push forward.
If your child is having a hard time pedaling they may need to strengthen their thigh and hip muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus muscles). Easy activities to strengthen the muscles used for pedaling are:
Marching or running up a hill
Marching or running up a hill backward
Climbing up and down stairs.
All of these activities can be made fun with games or offer prizes such as stickers or play time with bubbles.
Most importantly remember to make these experiences light-hearted and fun. The stress and anxiety you feel as a parent can easily be transferred to your child's emotions, which can make it harder to learn to ride. Cheer them on when they succeed and encourage them when they don't succeed. If you take the time to focus on each skill individually, your child can learn to ride quickly.
Author: Dr. Chandi Edmonds is a board-certified pediatric physical therapist who is passionate about her work with children ages from birth to 18 years old. She loves to help parents and kids learn to ride with less stress and anxiety.