Empowering You to Parent with the Brain in Mind
Parents are the first and most influential teachers in a child's life... 85% of the human brain develops in the first three years of life so we want to help you with tips and tools to make every day count and help you maximize your child’s potential.
Our goal is to help you raise smart, capable, and compassionate children.
We hope these Simple Ideas With Profound Impact will make the difference in your child's life.
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Welcome to the BrainFit Kids blog. We’re so happy that you found us. If you’re a new parent, congratulations on landing the most important job in the world! Our goal at BrainFit Kids is to help you raise children who are smart, capable, and compassionate. Children who have self-confidence, are not afraid to try new…Learn More +
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“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has – or ever will have – something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”
– Mr. Fred Rogers
We’ve finally arrived at the third core principle that we see playing out in child brain development. This principle says that each child is unique.
If you’ve been following along from the beginning, you know that the three laws that govern child brain development along with the three core principles we can easily observe during that development comprise the scientific underpinning of everything we do at BrainFit Kids.
If you are new to BFK then here’s a quick recap. I recommend you read through these in order so you understand what follows.
- First law – Function Determines Structure.
- Second law – Frequency, Intensity, and Duration.
- Third law – “Where there is a need, there is a facility”.
- First core principle – Brain development is Progressive.
- Second core principle – Brain development is Synergistic.
- Third core principle – now you’re all caught up!
So, the third core principle tells us that each child is a unique individual. And this sets up a bit of a paradox! The science of child brain development is universal. It applies to all children at all times. It has done so since the beginning of our species, Homo sapiens. It will continue to do so in the future because it is built into our biology. And yet, despite the fact that we all follow the same ancient pathway during the course of our development, there are a multitude of outcomes! Why is that?
The answer is found in the third core principle. Each child is a genetically unique individual. Never before in human history has that child’s combination of DNA been seen… and it will never be seen again. Think about that! Ever get the feeling that you are not so special? Well, get over it and take a bow! Human history may not be so ancient in geologic terms but we’ve been around for a pretty long time, about 300,000 years. And yet, not once in all of that time has there been another you. The you that is you has never been seen before and will never be seen again.
Each child’s unique genetic inheritance results in certain biological and physiological strengths and weaknesses that exist only in him or her. Sometimes, especially when looking at children who struggle with developmental challenges, we have a tendency to blame the difficulties on genetic weaknesses. Genetic inheritance is often seen as a prison cell trapping the child in a cycle of failure from which he cannot escape.
Science and forty plus years of clinical experience tells us that this is wrong because it ignores the reality that child brain development, and the resultant development of functional ability, is dependent on the interaction of genetics with the environment. So, while it is true that a child may inherit certain vulnerabilities, it is also true that everything in the environment and every developmental opportunity has a direct effect on the development and organization of the brain. We must always remember that biology is not destiny.
Genetics is a starting point. It is a springboard, not a prison cell. Genetics must interact with the environment and therein lies the possibility for a more compassionate response to the pain that children with developmental challenges experience. We can’t change genetics but we have complete control over the environment. There is no need to look for a magic bullet because the magic is already in the brain of every child.
“Today you are You, that is truer than true.
There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
– Dr. Seuss
Of course, there is more than just our genetics that makes each of us unique. That is simply the starting point. We are each born into different families with parents who are unique in their own right. Some of us have lots of brothers and sisters, some a few, some none. For those born into a family with several children there is the matter of birth order. The developmental experience of child number one is not the same as the experience of child number two, or three, or four. How can it be?
So, the point here is that each child will start with his or her unique genetic blueprint, mix that in with his or her unique set of environmental opportunities, and develop functional ability in such a way that it expresses his or her unique personality, interests, and gifts.
It’s instructive to look at this in terms of the development of mobility. We can take two children and give each of them the same amount of opportunity to learn how to move, and the same amount of opportunity to use the various stages of mobility (tummy crawling, then creeping, then walking) to get around.
While each child will follow a path that we all follow, provided we do nothing to interfere, how each child follows that path will be unique to each of them. For example, how long it takes for a child to learn to walk will be unique for each child even though there is an expected time frame for the development of that ability. Some children spend a few weeks creeping before they walk, some children spend a few months. Of course, what is important is that children follow the process, not how quickly they get to the end result.
Now, extrapolate what we see in this example from the development of mobility to the development of all of the other functions. Think of it in terms of the development of vision, hearing and understanding, tactile ability, language, and manual ability. I think you can easily see that, while each child is born with extraordinary potential, how each child manifests that potential will be determined by the delicate interplay of their unique genetic endowment with their unique environmental experience.
There is no one alive who is Youer than You! That’s a beautiful thing!
Learning to ride a bike is a right of passage for many children and provides them the freedom to explore on their own. As our children became confident on their balance bikes we were quickly able to eliminate the need for a stroller on longer and longer distances. Most importantly, kids just think riding a bike is A LOT of fun. So let’s get started on how to learn to ride a bike!
Start by buying a helmet.
Before we can ride, we need a helmet – this is afterall a blog about child brain development. When I was 9 years old I went out for “one ride” without my helmet and crashed head first into the trailer of a truck, which required 10 stitches and has left me with a visible scar on my forehead nearly 30 years later.
Introduce a helmet BEFORE they start riding so they won’t know any different. They will be excited to wear it and won’t find the helmet a distraction as they start to learn to ride. We introduced our helmets to our kids around a year old when they began riding in our Burley Bike trailer; however, you can just as easily put the helmet on your child around the house. In fact our daughter liked her helmet so much she wore it around the house mimicking her older brother for a couple months before she really began consistently riding her balance bike.
Both of our children wear the Giro SCAMP MIPS helmet. There are many children’s helmets on the market; however, we love the Roc Loc system which ensures a snug fit. This is a small adjustment wheel on the back of the helmet that allows you to fit the helmet to the curvature of each child’s head. As somebody who fitted helmets on kids for years while working at a bike shop, please DO NOT get any helmet that uses different size “pads” to try to attempt to create the right fit. The fit will never be the same and is not adjustable as your child grows. The MIPS version is $20 more than the standard and includes Giro’s Multi-Directional Impact Protection System. The idea is to provide further protection for the child in a crash, though admittedly sometimes this system pulls the kids hair when taking off their helmet. That said, we looked at a lot of helmets and felt there was no compromise.
For a long time running I sold the most helmets at Deerfield Cyclery as parents took one look at my scar and knew they didn’t want the same to happen to their own child. Please use common sense and buy your child a quality helmet that they love to wear. If you don’t know how to fit the hemet, visit your local bicycle shop. An improperly fit helmet is nearly as worthless as none at all. Lastly, set a good example and wear one yourself!
Ensure your child is physically and mentally ready.
As we discussed in Bicycle Riding Made Easy, your child needs to have developed enough coordination and strength required to get started on a bike. Our daughter expressed interest in balance bikes from the time she could walk (anything my brother can do, I can do) and at 14 months I let her give it a try. It was too early, she was frustrated, and she had a meltdown. At 15 months she could walk a bit with the bike, but it wasn’t until she was 18-19 months that things really started to click for her. While you can start earlier than 1.5 years, I’d keep that as a reasonable target to when you might be able to begin. Regardless of whether you start at 2 or 10 make sure that you remember that you are looking for high frequency and low intensity and duration when starting out. This will ensure that your child is able to get comfortable with the concepts of balance on a bike without getting frustrated.
Start with a balance bike
Assuming your child is comfortable with their helmet and physically and mentally ready, it’s time to introduce them to the balance bike or if they are older than 3, a pedal bike that you have taken the pedals off of. The younger they are, the more you want to just get them comfortable with the bike before even getting them on the bike. For example, if the bike has a bell, let your child start by playing with the bell. Initially this may seem frustrating because they will be more into the bell than anything else, but over time they will learn that the bike itself is actually more fun than the bell.
Next introduce them to standing over the seat while holding the handle bar. If they can hold the bike upright you can walk in front of them and see if you can get them to “waddle walk” forward with the bike. The next time period is a critical time of learning, but is most often where I think parents give up and say my kid doesn’t like the balance bike or it didn’t work. It may take dozens of bike rides over weeks to get your child to start moving forward at more than a snail’s pace. Be patient and mindful for your child. Stop BEFORE they start to get frustrated. I am often guilty of over extending the kids because they say they want more, without internalizing that they are bordering on a meltdown. As they gain confidence they will want to keep riding; however, we found that especially with young kids, they expend a lot of energy and then may get upset. I would recommend trying to get your child on the bike nearly every day even if only for 5-10 minutes while they are going through this initial phase.
When your child is able to start moving about as fast as they can walk, raise their seat again until their heels are just barely off the ground when standing over the seat. This will encourage your child to stride on the bike. With a balance bike, initially it is NOT important to introduce a slight incline, which is often recommended with a pedal bike. My recommendation is to introduce inclines once they move from waddling to walking / striding on the bike.
Before you know it they’ll be moving practically as fast as somebody pedaling a bike of similar size. In our last post we talked about our favorite balance bike, the Woom 1. If you have it or a similar balance bike with a hand break this is good time to start introducing it.
As they grow with confidence and ability to stop, let them start doing more and more challenging terrain, hills, and bike parks. Seriously, kids can rip it on balance bikes!
Learning to ride a pedal bike is quick and easy if you have already mastered balance. It took our son about 5 minutes to get the hang of pedals and about 15 minutes before he was pedaling around a parking lot on a regular pedal bike.
As when I was growing up, most people still learn to ride on a tricycle or with training wheels and then attempt to transition to two wheels. The problem with this, as we discussed in Bicycle Riding Made Easy, is that the ability to successfully ride a two-wheeled bicycle hinges completely on the ability to balance oneself. Neither tricycles nor training wheels teach this skill, which is why so many people struggle to learn to ride.
If your child is starting to learn to ride on a pedal bike without having ridden a balance bike, take the pedals off, follow the instructions above in Start with a Balance Bike, and only move onto a pedal bike once they have mastered balance and striding. They should be able to coast down a long hill, pick up their legs, have no trouble balancing, and control stopping with their feet or a hand brake. Also consider our thoughts in Our Favorite Kids Bikes and why we recommend a pedal bike without a coaster brake.
Please do not go from a balance bike to a bike with training wheels. We see this all too often. Even Giro’s website talks about how the Scamp helmet will grow with a child from balance bikes to training wheels. The ENTIRE point of a balance bike is to teach balance, thus eliminating training wheels, which doesn’t teach balance.
Bike Walk Through
With balance mastered, the critical part of learning to ride a pedal bike is the pedaling. Like with the balance bike, before you start trying to ride, walk them through the bike. Start by showing your child the pedals and explain to them how it is different from their balance bike. Lift up the bike by the seat with your left hand, use your right hand to pedal the bike and get the rear wheel spinning, then transition your right hand to the rear (right) hand brake and stop the wheel. While doing this you should be able to explain how pedaling makes the bike move and the hand brake stops the bike.
Next, have your child sit on the bike and ensure that the seat is adjusted properly. Their heels should just slightly come off the ground while standing over the seat. This should be the same position they were comfortable striding in with a balance bike.
With your child sitting on the seat, lift the rear wheel off the ground and have them begin to pedal the bike, then have them use the right hand brake to stop the bike. If you have removed the coaster brake, do the same thing, but have your child pedal backwards. Explain how the bike only moves forward if they are pedaling forwards. Repeat until you think your child has grasped the pedaling motion.
Time to ride
They know how to balance, they know how to pedal, it is time to put it all together! Find a parking lot or open space that has a very slight downward incline. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t want a hill. The purpose of the incline is to maintain forward momentum, which makes it easier to balance, while the child is trying to master combining balance with pedaling.
Stand behind your child with your hand under the seat of the bike. Ask them to place their feet on the pedals and begin pedaling. Your purpose is NOT to provide the balance for them, but rather to guide the bike. Guiding the bike means adding forward momentum if they are not moving fast enough to balance, slow them if they become distracted, and help keep them from truly toppling. Falling is okay as it encourages learning, but mitigating your child getting hurt will keep morale up. Remember to call it quits BEFORE your child starts getting tired.
You are looking to get your child comfortable with the process of pedaling. They will likely master this going down the hill, then try to turn and lose momentum because they aren’t pedaling fast enough. This is 100% okay. Repeat starting at the top of the incline until they are comfortable pedaling fast enough to overcome the hill.
If they have mastered balance before trying to pedal you should be able to teach your child this stage within a few days if not faster. Again, I would recommend trying to find several consecutive days when you can get out for 10-15 minutes and practice.
Now enjoy the magic of exploration!
Check out our YouTube playlist more how to videos in the coming weeks.
One warning. Your kids may become obsessed. Our son received his pedal bike from Santa, which means that we were out in sleet and snow as he insisted on riding every day. 🙂
My first high school job was working at a bicycle shop. When you work at a bike shop you start by building the kids bikes and at the time that meant 16” bikes with training wheels. Like many people, I thought that was the only way kids learned to ride a bike.
Shockingly, balance bikes have actually been around since the 18th century! Somewhere between my working at a bike shop and present day, balance bikes became a thing. Once I learned why using a balance bike is the best way to learn to ride a bicycle, we decided it was the route to choose for teaching our kids.
The next question of course is, which balance bike to choose? There are a ton of options out there now, which is great because it means that more and more people are realizing the benefits of starting on a balance bike over a tricycle. It can be a bit overwhelming, however, when trying to figure out which bike to pick for your child.
There are a number of key factors that go into our top choice. Before getting into those details I’ll explain how we started out. We knew we wanted to start with a balance bike, so when our son was 20 months old we got him a basic Strider Balance Bike. We didn’t really research bikes, just got him the one they had at the sporting goods store. It did the trick and over the first few months he got more and more comfortable on it. He loved riding so much that it didn’t take long for him to start wearing the bottoms off of his sneakers as he had to use his feet to brake. That’s when we decided we needed to look into some other options.
We initially promised that he could get a pedal bike, but realized that he was still too short to ride a pedal bike that didn’t have trainings wheels. After a bit of research we learned about Woom bikes, which met most of the criteria we were looking for, essentially a well designed balance bike that somebody could grow with. Despite a slightly higher price, we decided to take a shot and ordered the Woom 1 online.
As somebody who worked at a bike shop I instantly appreciated the thought and craftsmanship that went into the design of this bike when it arrived. It was designed with the young child in mind, a 1.5 year old can stand over the seat, lightweight aluminum, air tires for a smoother ride over multiple surfaces, a hand brake to start to teach him how to stop, a steering limiter to help keep the young rider from over steering, and of course his favorite aspect – the bell.
When our son was ready to progress to the Woom 2, their 14” pedal bike we continued to love their philosophy and design. Unfortunately the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission essentially requires bikes with a seat post less than 22” to have a coaster brake (a foot brake that activates when you pedal backwards.) Thankfully Woom and a few others offer a cheap free-wheel kit for their pedal bikes so that you can remove the back-pedal brake. This may not seem like a big deal but being able to remove that back-pedal brake so your child can just use their hand brakes and can actually back pedal normally is really wonderful. It teaches them the same skill they will learn as the grow into bigger bikes.
We have absolutely gotten more than our money’s worth with as much as our kids ride their bikes! If you’re hesitant on the initial cost then I’d recommend starting with a less expensive and more basic balance bike. Either get one used or buy something more simple like the basic Strider bike. But if you’re child is going to really ride a good amount then springing for the Woom 1 is absolutely worth it. They also hold their value pretty well and are easy to sell once you’re done with them. If your child is a bit older and/or taller, you can also consider just buying the Woom 2 from the start and removing the pedals at the beginning to turn it into a balance bike until your child is ready to have pedals added to the equation.
We can’t recommend Woom bikes, enough. They’re well-made with superior quality materials that hold up to heavy use by kids and are designed to facilitate the process of learning how to ride. There really are lots of options out there, however, so another great resource for sorting through the different options is the website twowheelingtots.com. They provide reviews of many different brands and give comparisons of different brands.
There are many options out there at various price-points but in the end, no matter what your budget is, we’ll always argue that your money is better spent on a balance bike over a tricycle. Get them on two wheels from the start and they’ll develop their balance early on and make the transition to a pedal-bike with ease.
Stay tuned next week for our tips on how to teach your child to ride!