Move and Play Paediatric Therapy

Move and Play Paediatric Therapy

Bike riding is a popular and favourite activity for many children in Australia.  Riding a bike enables children to play and get around with their friends, experience independence (for example when riding to school or the shops by themselves for the first time), and is a fun way for kids to be physically active throughout childhood.

When a child is first learning to ride a bike there are 5 key skills they will need to learn:

  • Getting on and off
  • Balancing
  • Pedalling
  • Steering
  • Braking/ Stopping

Learning these 4 skills, as well as learning to put them all together to ride a bike without any help can be challenging!

  • Introduce a toddler trike when they are young. Toddler trikes are often plastic and low to the ground, and can be used by your child as soon as they can stand and walk.  Using a toddler trike will help your child to learn to get on and off the bike by lifting their leg over the seat, and will get them practicing the basics of steering.
  • Make sure the bike set up is optimal for your child. If the bike set up is not ideal for your child, it will make it harder (or impossible) for them to learn to ride it.  An ideal bike set up should allow your child to:
    • Sit on the bike seat with the balls of their feet touching the ground (you can also have them with their feet flat on the ground, but being too low can make it harder to pedal.
    • Keep a slight bend in their elbows when they hold the handlebars while sitting in the seat.
  • Learn to pedal and balance separately. Trying to teach your child to pedal and balance together is likely to be too difficult and is likely to end in a lot of crashes and frustration.  Instead, you are better off teaching these skills separately:
    • Try a balance bike (or take the pedals off your child’s bike) to help your child learn to balance. Sit your child on the bike seat with their feet just touching the ground on either side.  Get your child to ‘walk’ their feet to move the bike forwards while the balance the bike upright.  As your child improves, they can then ‘run’ their feet to make the bike move faster, and eventually they should be able to pick their feet up while they balance the bike underneath them.
    • Learn to pedal after your child has mastered balancing (or with training wheels on). Pedaling is often the easier skill to learn than balancing.  So it is usually better to teach them to balance first.  Once they have mastered balancing, you may be able to just put the pedals back on.  If your child is struggling to pick up how to pedal, you may also try it with the training wheels on until they get the hang of it, then take the training wheels off again.
  • Learn to ride on a flat smooth surface and ride in a straight line first. This tip applies for when learning to pedal, learning to balance, and when learning to put pedaling and balancing together.  You can also try a very slight downwards slope to help your child get the momentum they need to get started.  This is a good time to learn to use the brake to slow and stop the bike.
  • Steering usually comes relatively naturally to children, but it is best to start with gentle changes of direction before progressing onto more difficult changes of direction at greater speeds. Choose your bike path or riding pathway to match your child’s abilities.
  • Always wear your helmet!!! Even when riding in the backyard or at home.  This sets your child up with good habits from early on, and will protect them from concussions or even serious brain injury if they do come off their bike as they are learning to ride.

Once your child has mastered balancing, pedaling, steering, braking and stopping, then you are ready to teach them bike safety and road rules.  So make sure you choose safe bike pathways or supervise their riding safely until then.

If your child is having difficulty learning to ride a bike and would like some help from a professional, reach out to your local children’s physiotherapist who will be more than happy to help your child with this fun, life-long skill.


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