Everyone knows how to ride a bike, right? But amazingly, not very many people know how to teach
someone how to ride a bike. If you're considering taking the training wheels off of a youngster's bike and teaching them how to ride a two-wheeler, your first step should be to make sure they want to learn it. Children run on very different clocks, and some will want to learn at very early ages, and others will be content to wait a year or two.
Today my 4 year-old came home from a group play date where almost all of the other kids were riding their bikes without training wheels, and announced that he wanted to learn to do so too, this instant! So we made plans to head over to the local park with a nice flat paved area to practice. After the jump I'll share some of the ideas I used to make the experience fun for both him and me.
First, some quick tips:
- Of course, make sure your child has safety equipment - minimally a helmet, but hopefully also knee and elbow pads
- Adjust the training wheels up so that the bike is "wobbly", but don't torture your child by leaving it that way very long; 10 to 20 minutes is about right. It's not really a natural way to ride a bike, and only serves to teach them what balancing feels like in a straight line. Also, have you ever watched someone learning to ride a bike? They rarely ride in a straight line!
- Contrary to popular opinion, it's okay to hold onto your child as they learn to balance on their own. I suggest holding them by the shoulders or waist, so you can very quickly slip your hands under their arms to save them from a crash. This is just as hard on the back as it sounds, but can mean a child who is excited about their modest accomplishments at the end of the practice session vs. a battered and bruised child who is quickly becoming afraid of the idea of riding a bike.
Now for the most important information: teach your child that the handle bars are for adjusting your balance, only
. In other words, the bike's front wheel is not for steering, but simply for adjusting your balance. It will help them conceptualize how to stay on their bike without throwing their body from side to side, and anyway, it's true!
Once they are ready to start learning how to steer their bike, teach them that steering is accomplished by leaning the bike in the direction that they want to steer. This is also true; while it may feel like you're steering to the left when you ride to the left, the truth is that you are leaning your bike over, then steering left to compensate and keep your balance. Lastly, teach your child to keep on pedaling as they are learning. The pedaling may have a slight gyroscopic effect helping to keep the rider balanced, but more importantly it will teach your child to maintain their speed, which makes balancing far easier.
Lastly, don't expect a miracle the first time out! We came home tonight after an exhausting 90 minutes at the park, and my little one was ecstatic to have completed a few "rides" of 15 to 20 seconds unassisted. We learned how to fall by doing so on the grass on purpose, and generally had a lighthearted evening. Now he's more excited than ever to get back on the horse (so to speak) and try again tomorrow. Good luck!