Suzanne Tobias

June 16, 2011

Secret helps children glide into summer

Because I have kids and write a column about family life, parents often ask me for silver-bullet solutions to their dilemma du jour:

Because I have kids and write a column about family life, parents often ask me for silver-bullet solutions to their dilemma du jour:

How do you get a baby to sleep through the night?

How do you potty train?

How do you keep kids entertained on car trips?

My answers are seldom very helpful:

I didn't.

I've tried to block it out of my mind.

Bubbles and Post-It Notes?

But one dilemma, one journey toward one of childhood's most exhilarating milestones, I welcome with glee every spring and summer. Because for once, I have an answer:

I know how to teach a child to ride a bike.

It's not my patented method, but one I learned more than a decade ago from Ruth Holliday, owner of the Bicycle Pedaler in Wichita. It worked like a dream for my two kids, and I've since passed it along to dozens of parents, who pass it along to dozens more. It's just that good.

The secret is something I call "Glide-to-Ride," a step-by-step approach that lets a child learn to balance and steer before trying to pedal. Here's how it works:

* First, make sure the child is ready. A clear sign? He asks you to take off his training wheels. Friends who can ride often act as catalysts.

* Think safety. Whenever he rides, a child should wear a helmet and shoes that won't slip off. Also, a beginner's bike should have a foot brake.

* After removing the training wheels, adjust the bicycle seat. This is crucial. The seat should be low enough that the child, while seated, can put his feet flat on the ground. If it's still too tall, consider buying or borrowing a smaller bike.

* Find an open, paved area with a very slight incline. A parking lot with a slight grade works best, but even a driveway on a cul-de-sac is OK. You don't need lots of room, but you'll want to avoid traffic and other distractions.

* Have your child sit on the bike and dangle his feet on either side. Have him walk the bike, taking little steps, on a flat area. Eventually, encourage him to "leap," picking up both feet at once, to get a sense of balancing longer distances.

* Take the child to the top of the incline and have him coast to the bottom. At this point, he still should not pedal. If he feels like he's about to fall, he simply should put his feet down to stop the bike. Repeat this step until he can glide down several times with his feet an inch or two above the ground.

* Next, have the child coast down the incline with his feet on the pedals, but not pedaling. Repeat until he feels secure.

* Finally, have the child pedal the bike once or twice on the way down , to get the feel for balancing and pedaling simultaneously. Learning to ride can take less than an hour or several days.

This method takes more patience and persistence than courage. It's not the old-fashioned "get on and go" approach, which can mean lots of skinned knees and frayed nerves. But for once I can say, confidently and unequivocally, that it works.

If only there was such a thing for potty training.

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