Do you remember learning to ride a bike? One of my key memories is that my younger brother learnt before me – what a humiliation for competitive siblings! Luckily I did learn eventually and am now a keen cyclist. Even as a child I loved the feeling of independence I got from speeding around under my own steam.
Many kids learn to ride on the pavement, often with the stabilisers on. But pavements are usually narrow or cluttered with bins, making it hard to learn. Also, learner cyclists can disconcert younger toddlers, older people and other pedestrians. As they get bigger, they need more space to get the feel for a bike, and yet most parents don’t feel happy to let a wobbly five year old onto the road.
One option is to take the child and their bike to the local park or nearest flat car park at the weekend so they can master manoeuvring and balance in a safe space. This can mean the hassle of putting bikes into the car or attempting to carry a bike whilst safely ushering small child(ren) along the pavement and across busy roads. A recipe for meltdown (theirs and/or yours) if ever there was one.
But there is another way! During playing out sessions, when a street is closed to through traffic, children can simply get out their dusty bikes and ride. They have the freedom of a largely car-free space but experiencing the feel of a road. In a recent survey of the Playing Out network, 80% of street organisers reported that children have learnt to cycle or improved their skills and confidence as a result. This quote from Louis Schafer (aged 5), whose parents have organised regular playing out sessions since he was two, says it best:
“Well I was playing outside on my bike and then I kept on falling off and then I gradually got my balance and I started to go faster but I kept on crashing into things at the end so I had to learn to make it controlled and slow down, and I learnt that and I started to learn other things and I started building ramps for it and stuff like that and bumps for it, and I went to the end of the cones and I went back down again and cycled up and down and I kept on doing that ‘til I found it really easy to do it, and that’s why I know how to do it now and now I do loads of other stuff !!”
You can’t argue with that.