We’ve put together some advice on how to help your child move from starting out on a balance bike to the pedalling stage. You may also enjoy the fun games and top tips in the videos we created with Cycling Scotland.
Remember to keep it fun! Do a little bit at a time and stop when your child has had enough. You can always come back to it later.
If your child is older and hasn’t used a balance bike, you can take the pedals off a regular bike so they can learn to balance first before trying to pedal.
1&2. Before you start
3. First steps
Once your child is ready to get started, the first stage is sitting on the seat as he/she steps along, moving the bike slowly but surely. Some younger children may need to start by taking the bike for a walk instead. This doesn’t need much space at all.
Once your child is happy sitting on the bike, it’s time to develop some basic bike skills. It’s good to introduce braking at this stage so your child learns to stop the bike safely before starting to move too quickly. You can play a game off the bike to show your child how the brake works.
Braking game 1
Hold your hands out in front of you. Ask your child to copy you, saying “Squeeze,” and “Open,” clenching your fists then opening your hands out. Turn the bike upside down and spin the wheel, then squeeze the brake lever, saying “Squeeze,” as you do it. Watching out for fingers and spokes, take turns with your child, one of you spinning the wheel, one of you squeezing the brake, then with your child back on the bike, or walking alongside, try it on the move, saying, “Squeeze,” when you want them to stop.
Braking game 2
For older children who are a bit more used to braking, you can try a game – musical brakes. Play some music on your radio or phone, stopping and starting as they roll along. When the music stops, the bike stops!
It’s important for your child to play freely on their bike as much of their learning will come from their own adventures. Once they’ve built up confidence walking the bike along, it’s time to work on some basic bike skills.
Getting on and off the bike
As adults, we don’t have to think about this, but learning to do it properly now will make it easier in the future. Another good habit to learn is laying the bike down gently on the left side. It doesn’t matter so much on a balance bike, but it will help to protect gears and chains on bigger bikes when they get older.
4. Developing balance and control
Playing games will help your child to improve balance and control skills
As you see in the video, we often use cones to mark out games but you can use wellies or toys, plant pots or plastic bottles – anything you have to hand.
5. Time to glide
Once your child has balance and control skills, he/she will be ready to begin gliding. This can begin with a game of Frogs’ Legs. Ask them, “How does a frog move?” By jumping! Get them to practice off the bike, jumping with two feet like a frog, then demonstrate this on a bike by showing them how to push off strongly with two feet.
For wee ones, this may take a bit of practice as some of them jump their bottoms off the seat as they push off.
Some will become confident at building up their pace this way, others will prefer to run to gain the momentum needed to glide. It’s a case of trying what works for them and giving them the chance to play freely, building up the muscle memory of the skills they’ve learned.
6. Time to start pedalling!
Once your child can glide on a balance bike for more than five seconds, he/she is ready to start pedalling – no stabilisers needed.
Getting going is the trickiest bit. You can help by standing slightly behind to the side with your hand on your child’s far shoulder. This enables you to provide a little momentum or keep your child steady if needed. Don’t hold on to the seat or handlebars as this affects the balancing and won’t do your back any good either.
It helps to start on a slightly downhill slope, reminding your child to look ahead rather than down at their feet.
Some children may need a little help to move the pedals in the right direction – pedalling backwards is far easier than pedalling forwards – but they’ll soon learn that this won’t get them far.
7. Improving skills
The last video in the Play Together on Pedals series looks at improving skills. Again, the aim is to have fun as your child pedals on different surfaces and small gradients, improving their steering to move safely around other people.
It’s never been more important to teach your child how to cycle safely in public spaces, watching their speed, being aware of their surroundings and using their brakes.
There are lots of games you can adapt to play on bikes. As well as those in the videos, perhaps you could come up with some of your own too.
We’re looking forward to being back in nurseries and running our drop in sessions as soon as it’s safe to do so. In the meantime, we hope that some of the hints and tips help to get some more mini cyclists out having fun on their bikes.
Huge thanks to Derby Street Nursery for their participation and to 29 Studios for doing such a great job!