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May is National Bike Month, and we love this super way to exercise, enjoy the great outdoors and leave little trace on planet Earth.
National Bike Month is one of those U.S. calendar happenings that, like Earth Day, has been around a long time. For 65 years the League of American Bicyclists have sponsored this month-long celebration of cycling throughout the month of May. Look out for goodies like Bike-to-Work Day on Friday, May 21st and keep your eyes open for all kinds of chances to embrace the joy of cycling.
My husband has long been into biking. A runner/hiker at heart, it took me a little while to jump on board, but my knees and my spirit are so glad I did. Once we had kids, we had to figure out how our kiddos could become part of cycling—and how to help them catch the bug, too. To follow are a handful of ways we’ve learned to celebrate cycling with kids all year long. However you celebrate, Happy National Bike Month!
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Don’t Overlook the Power of Wheels!
Young children worldwide get mesmerized by spinning—that includes spinning their own bodies or just watching things spin (think the clothes dryer, a ceiling fan, or any kind of wheels). And, it’s for good reason.
This spinning action, known to play experts as “rotation” is one of a handful of patterns (known to experts as “behavioral schema”). Kids everywhere are drawn to these patterns in their play. When kids repeat these patterns, they not only become wonderfully focused but they also support the development of their bodies and brains.
So, don’t forget to turn your bike upside down and let kids explore the wheels, the pedals and the gears. Stay close with really little ones, since there are so many places for wee fingers to get caught, but enjoy watching their face and supporting them in exploring rotation. Don’t have a bike? Do the same with a stroller, scooter or even a toy truck. Wheels offer a special magic that we often miss!
Take Kids Along for A Ride
Perhaps the best way to get or stay engaged in cycling and help kids get into it is to take wee ones with you as you bike. And, as a mom who can no longer tow or stow a kiddo on my bike, enjoy this time while it lasts! From trailers to mounted seats, here are a few articles that we’ve found most helpful in identifying which kind of gear can help you safely bring your kids along on bike rides:
- The Best Bike Trailers for Hauling Kids—Bicycling.com
- Best Bicycle Child Seats: What to look for and recommended kids bike seats—Cycling Weekly
Help Kids Find Balance.
Even before they are ready to pedal, kids can discover the balancing they’ll need to do to cycle on their own someday. From our experience, some time on a balance bike early on made the transition to pedaling a bike super smooth—and whenever had to make the detour to training wheels. We loved this review of balance bikes:
- The Best Balance Bikes for Kids—NY Times
- How to teach a kid to ride using a balance bike—Bike Radar (UK)
Everyone falls when they ride bikes, and it's a bit scary to parents to see kids fall when they are moving as fast as they start to move on a bike. Focus first on safety. Well fitted helmets are non negotiable! Then, when each inevitable fall happens, try to scream on the inside and, instead, roll up to your fallen budding cyclist with a calm spirit. Acknowledge that scrapes or falls sure do hurt, but that kids will be okay. If they are not too hurt to keep going, try to get them back and riding, if you can. Learning to fall, feel and get right back up is a super life lesson that applies to far more than biking
We just enjoyed our first ever family bike ride with all 5 Fitzgeralds on their own bikes. It was short, sweet and confined to a local rail trail, but it happened! It can feel like a huge leap to let kids bike on their own, though, and it helps you and kids when you teach kids road safety. You’ll feel more secure and they’ll be better able to navigate the streets on their own, too!
We also try really hard to NOT say "be careful." When you do, you put kids' brains in danger mode, rather than helping to make them alert and confident. Click here to read more about alternatives that help us do better than "be careful."
We’ve found it helpful to give kids clear, non negotiable rules (e.g. You walk the bike through an intersection, or you don’t go on bike rides). We’ve also found it equally important to talk to kids about how roads work, where cars need to be and how to ride alongside them. These things are not intuitive, and helping kids understand the landscape can help them develop good cycling judgment for the long haul.
Here are a few solid lists of safety tips/rules to get you started:
- 10 Basic Safety Rules When Biking With Kids—Perfectdaytoplay.com
- Bike Safety Rules—National Safety Council
How to Ride a Bike in Traffic (at any age)—REI
Why is this activity great for kids?
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