by Grace Sloop
When I was a child, how to teach a kid to ride a bike consisted of finding a large hill and pushing the screaming child down it. Hopefully, or so the philosophy went, the child picked up all the necessary skills for bike riding along the way. Mainly, it meant a lot of bruises and scratches and a child too terrified to ride again. This method went out probably around the same time as the “throw your child into a raging river–without a life preserver!–and they’ll learn how to swim” method of teaching swimming.
Fortunately, parents have learned a more practical and generally healthier approach to teaching a kid to ride a bike: the good ole run-alongside-and-push method. When the shove-’em-down-a-hill method didn’t work, my parents finally tried this method instead. It actually worked for me! In a few weeks, I was happily riding my bike, intentionally, straight down large hills–sometimes without even crashing.
The run-alongside-and-push method really is as simple as it seems. The valiant yet out-of- shape parent grabs the bicycle by the handle bars with one hand and the back of the seat with the other. The dutiful parent then putters alongside pushing the bike, hoping at some point the child catches on so he or she (go Moms!) can quietly fall to the ground and lie there until the ambulance arrives.
The downside of this approach, other than spending a week in cardiac intensive care, is that the 18-inch bike for toddlers requires the parent to run bent in half while pushing little Johnny or Suzy along.
Fortunately, the EZ Bar was developed to combat this problem. The EZ Bar is a rod with a release clip, which attaches to the bicycle under the seat and forks into handle bars at the other end. This allows the parent to stand comfortably while pushing and stabilizing the bike and without doubling over from back pain afterwards. When the child feels confident, the parent releases the clip, letting the child ride free on his or her own.
The International Bicycle Fund’s website, iBike.org, also has an in-depth plan on how to teach a child to ride a bike. Their plan breaks bike riding into four distinct skills: balance, pedaling, riding in a straight line and turning.
This method is quite detailed and takes several days learning each skill, one at a time. It also requires taking the pedals and training wheels off of the bike while the child learns how to balance the bike. If your child has had no success with the run-alongside-and-push way, or if you want to make bike riding a more gentle process, this is a great place to start.
As you embark on your bike riding journey with your child, remember that it’s supposed to be fun for both you and your child. When the fun stops, end the lesson and begin again another day. If your child is frightened, or just can’t seem to catch on to all the concepts at once, break up the skills as recommended by the International Bicycle Fund. After all, learning to ride a bike is not a race. It is a worthwhile process.
And remember, safety first. Your child should always be wearing a helmet and safety pads, not just when learning to ride a bike, but at all times while on two wheels. That’s the smart way to ensure that your child rides for a very long time to come.
Of course, one step at a time. Your little Johnny or Suzy has to learn to ride first.
The good news is that either of the systems mentioned here on how to teach a kid to ride a bike work way better than the “find a large hill” scheme ever did–and that means your child will be happily riding all over the neighborhood in no time flat.