How can I improve my baby's balance?
For most, learning how to ride means going through the typical progression that starts with a tricycle, and eventually ends with a bicycle by way of training wheels. But that progression takes time and results in many falls and spills. While this progression is great for teaching kids how to physically pedal a bicycle, it doesn’t provide them with the skills they need to improve their balance.
Fine Motor Skills
Without a question, balance is one of the most important motor skills that any child needs to develop in order to survive in this world. The sheer amount of energy that is needed in order to master the skill of balance, is enormous. It generally takes children months to build up the ability to stand on their own two feet for extended periods of time. From there, they must learn how to walk while maintaining that balance. After walking, they have mastered the skill of walking, they can then begin to fine-tune their abilities in order to run, jump, and skip.
Developing motor skills is necessary for any child to play sports, exercise, or even ride a bike. The more they practice, the closer they get to mastering the skills, which reduces the chances of falling down when they are climbing stairs or even walking on an uneven surface. Over time, the development of these core motor skills also helps to improve their muscle mass which provides them with further stability when moving.
But it’s one thing for a child to master balancing on their own two feet, it’s a completely different experience for them to learn to balance on two wheels. This is why parents start their kids off on tricycles before moving on to bicycles with training wheels. But experts agree that learning to balance on a bicycle with training wheels can be counterproductive, as children often become reliant upon that extra set of wheels.
Balance bicycles are not new, in fact, they have been around since the early 1800s when the dandy horse was invented by Carl Drais. In their simplest form, balance bicycles can be thought of like a bicycle without any pedals or chains. They are merely a frame with a steering mechanism and two wheels that teach a child to roll forward by pushing themselves along the ground just as if they were walking.
Over the years, balance bicycles have come in many different shapes and sizes. Some of them have been made entirely out of wood, while others are made out of metal. In fact, it’s not uncommon for some parents to simply take a bicycle frame and remove the pedal and gears so a child can learn to balance on their own.
All that is important, is that the balance bicycle must be the appropriate height for the rider. The child must be able to stand on his or her own two feet while straddling the saddle of the bike. If a child can sit on the saddle and then walk comfortably along the ground, then it is a good riding height. As a child gets more comfortable with scooting along the ground, they are able to run faster and eventually will begin to lift their feet off the ground altogether, in order to cruise along on two wheels.
Training Wheels Are an Obstacle
The biggest issue with training wheels is that they are very difficult to adjust correctly. If they are set too low, then the bicycle cannot lean from side to side. When riding on uneven terrain, it’s possible for the training wheels to lift the back tire off of the ground making it impossible for the child to propel themselves forward. And all of this can inhibit the ability of the bike to stop safely because too much weight is lifted off of the rear wheels.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, training wheels that are set too high result in the bicycle leaning back and forth from side to side as the child tries to ride it. While this does prevent issues that are commonly related to the training wheels being set too low, they increase the chances of an accident. And while it is possible for a watchful parent to slowly adjust the training wheels as needed, it is generally recommended to simply remove the pedals and chain altogether and allow the child to ride the bike without any training wheels at all.
A Balance Bike for Babies
Although it is possible to convert any standard bicycle into a balance bike for 2 year old, due to their size it is best to use a purpose-built dandy horse just for them. These specially designed balance bicycles are created in order to reduce the chances of injuries during use. They should have an adjustable seat, but should also feature four wheels rather than just two in order to provide better stability.
It’s possible for children to learn how to ride a bicycle faster, and at a younger age when they learn on a properly designed balance bike. By focusing on balancing and steering first, they can master the skill before they need to learn how to pedal. More importantly, they allow a child to become dependent on their own ability to stay upright, rather than building a dependency on the training wheels to keep them from falling over.
What to Look For
When looking for a good balance bike, it is important to start with something that has a steering limiter. It’s not uncommon for beginners to turn the handlebars in the wrong direction. On a traditional bicycle, the handlebars can spin 360 degrees which is too far for any beginner. Instead, it’s important to ensure that the handlebars cannot turn any further than 45 degrees in either direction.
Next, you have to make sure that the bicycle is comfortable. A child is not going to want to write something that isn’t comfortable to sit on. It should have an ergonomically designed seat pad that can be adjusted to the proper ride height. This provides a safer and more enjoyable experience.
More importantly, a baby's first bike should be something that does not have any form of pedals that could get in the way. Nothing is more painful to a beginner than kicking their shin into the pedals of a bicycle. Choosing something that does not have pedals, helps a child to build confidence in their ability to balance themselves on two wheels.