The importance of riding a bike for children’s development
Many of us look back with fond memories to the first time we rode a bike unaided. The great sense of achievement we felt at leaving our stabilisers behind and wobbling up the street! Although there is no ‘right’ age to learn to ride a bike, often children learn this skill at around six years old. This is usually the time when children have developed enough balance and coordination to be able to stay upright, pedal and guide their body. Successfully riding a bike is challenging as it requires independent use and coordination of the big muscles in the legs (as we pedal) and arms (as we steer the direction of the bike).
Learning and developmental benefits of exploring outdoors on a bike
As well as being a key part of development, learning to ride offers lots of other benefits too.
Independence and boundaries
Firstly, it provides children with independence. This is because it forms its own solo method of transport, meaning that children can explore further afield, for example by riding to their friends’ house or running an errand to the shop at the end of the road.
This also helps children with learning and respecting boundaries, such as knowing how far they are allowed to go and which roads to stay on. This is all part of growing independence and confidence, providing them with autonomy while ensuring they stay safe.
Having a simple activity that they can do with family or friends also provides a common ground for children to bond over. This is particularly true for shy children, as it offers a buffer for them to learn to communicate with and be in the company of others.
It also makes a wonderful bonding activity for all family members, old and young. Although life might get in the way of us being as active as we would like, donning a helmet and getting pedalling can set a great example for children. Plus, it’s great for the parents’ health, too. And it opens new areas for the family to explore or to take a picnic.
Fitness and stamina
Whether children are riding a bike with others or alone, they are refining their balance, stability, and coordination. For example, adjusting to riding on different terrains, or up and down an incline provides a new challenge for their muscle control. This is also a great way to help them build fitness and stamina, as they persevere to go faster and further. By providing children with an active hobby from a young age, you encourage their interest in being active which will help them to develop healthy habits and routines as they grow up too.
How to help children with learning to ride
In order to help children successfully achieve this milestone, you may be looking for some tips on how parents can help them to develop the skills and confidence needed to learn.
Moderate motor challenges build self-confidence
Ride-ons and balance bikes are a great way to introduce young children to the core skills needed to learn to ride a bike. They usually do not feature pedals and provide a stable base for children to practice holding handlebars and moving themselves along which requires them to be in an upright position and have some control in the muscles in their arms and legs.
Extra stability can help them to develop their skills and strength
Trikes make a great in between option as they provide a bit more stability than a bike, due to their design over three wheels. They enable children to familiarise themselves with moving along in an upright, seated position under their own pedal power. This helps them to grow the stamina they will need to successfully propel themselves along on a bike.
A bike with removable stabilisers helps in much the same way, by allowing children to become comfortable and confident with moving along on two wheels, while having the stability needed to provide reassurance.
If parents don't want stabilisers to undermine the balance once learned on a balance bike, they let the children carry a light backpack with a proper handle while learning to ride a bicycle. This way the parents can hold their children comfortably via the backpack handle. This makes it easier for the novice riders to find their own balance without being disturbed by a hand on the shoulder.
Learning to ride a bike trains life skills
As well as being a fantastic life skill, exploring on a bike is also an ideal activity that encourages us to get active and explore outdoors. This can provide some great opportunities for children’s development too, by offering a common ground for bonding with peers and family through shared experiences.
It also helps children to develop important social and emotional skills through building their independence and confidence and encouraging them to find a healthy hobby.
Remember, there is no ‘right’ age to learn to ride a bike and every child is different. However, you can be sure that whether they are riding a bike or another favourite ride-on, they will be growing their confidence and reaping the developmental benefits.