When starting out, keep the end in mind. In this case, your goal is a child who says something like, “This is fun!” The goal is not distance, speed, endurance or perfect technique. The goal is just fun, even if it means frequent stops and snacks, so that they’re eager to participate the next time around.
So, what are the key ingredients to making bike riding fun and helping your child develop a positive attitude toward the sport? For many older kids, just riding the bike is fun in itself. For younger kids just starting out, it pays to be prepared.
Keep instructions brief: Kids learn better by doing rather than listening. Keep instructions short and to the point so they can get on the bike and learn through experience.
Review basic skills: If your child is still a bit uncomfortable on a bike, start out practicing braking slowly. Eventually move into using hand signals (see below) and passing other riders on the trail.
Illustration courtesy of the city of Portland, Ore.
Use powers of observation: Tell kids to use their eyes and ears to "stop, look, and listen" to avoid potential hazards such as cars, potholes, curbs and broken glass. Also help hone their powers of observation by pointing out interesting sites along the way like animals, road signs, creeks and trees.
Enjoy a treat: Include a special treat on the ride, either by stopping for something yummy or bringing something they don’t usually get to have (consider healthy motivators like a novel fruit leather or a chocolate-y granola bar).
Tune into your child’s cues: Tune in to what your child might be needing throughout the ride. If they’re lagging behind, complaining or looking hot, it’s probably time for a break. If they’re keeping right up and looking content, ask if they want to go further, add more challenge, or keep the ride as is.
Be positive: Model a great attitude; your enthusiasm is contagious. Offer kids lots of specific praise for their effort, e.g., “You’re pedaling really smoothly,” or “I like how safely you’re riding” or “It’s fun riding with you!”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), children less than 10 years old do not yet have the maturity to make decisions necessary to ride safely in the street, and are better off riding on the sidewalk. (But, first, check if sidewalk riding is legal in your town.)
If you feel that your older child is ready to ride in the street, follow these tips:
Family cycling photos courtesy of Debbie Steinberg-Kuntz.
By Debbie Steinberg-Kuntz
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Last updated: 09/09/2013
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