Teaching Children to Ride a Tricycle

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Riding a tricycle is a complicated skill that requires strength, balance, coordination, motor planning and body awareness. There are many components to the act of tricycle riding, including climbing on and off, initiation of movement, fluid forward motion, pedaling and steering!

Many times we recommend beginning with a riding toy. Before children are able to utilize tricycle either due to their size or their skill set, or a combination of the two, a riding toy can be a great piece of equipment to practice climbing on and off, forward movement and steering/navigating around obstacles. Find a toy that meets your needs as well as your child’s. It is important to ensure the proper fit of the riding toy for each child.

When shopping for a Riding Toy keep in mind:

  1. Seat Width: A narrow seat is preferred so that child learns to move legs forward with narrower base of support.
  2. Seat Height: Child’s feet should be flat on floor with hips and knees bent approximately 45 degrees.
  3. Handlebars: The ideal riding toy is equipped with handlebars to allow child opportunity to learn to steer and negotiate obstacles.
  4. Rear Wheels: Assess the distance between the seat and the rear wheels. Make sure your child’s feet will not hit the rear wheels when they push off. 

Our Favorite Riding Toys Include:

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  1. Little Tikes Go and Grow Giraffe: Offers adjustable seat, steering and wide front wheel base for stability as child gains strength and stability!tricycle
  2. Little Tikes Scoot Ride On: Fun and engaging ride on toy which doubles as a walking push toy!tricycle
  3. Little Tikes Push and Ride Racer: Low seat allows for child to easily climb on and off. High back and easy grip handlebars keep the rider steady! Also doubles as walking toy, encouraging pull to stand and supported stepping. 

Learning to Ride a Tricycle Activity Ideas 

1. Climbing On and Off Riding Toy or Tricycle

Initially when practicing the act of climbing on and off, be sure to hold the riding toy to prevent it from sliding or moving. To climb on, initial positioning will be critical to success!

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Ensure child is standing next to the seat, with their body facing the handlebars. Holding onto the handlebars with both hands, encourage child to lift leg closest to the seat up and over the seat. You can help with motor planning to lift leg and bring it over the seat.

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Once child’s legs are positioned on each side of the seat, have them sit down. To climb off, child can stand up, hold onto handlebars, lift leg over the seat and dismount!

2. Scoot Forward on Riding Toy

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Children typically first learn to push backwards on riding toy. You can facilitate forward movement by holding child’s lower legs with bent knees and pushing feet against the ground to move forward. Allow child the opportunity to try this movement on their own. You may need to provide an incentive to encourage forward movement during this process. As child scoots forward at first they will move both legs together and then begin to alternate legs for longer stride.

In addition to learning how to move child’s legs, it is important to facilitate proper trunk and pelvis position to allow child to use legs effectively and efficiently. If child is sitting on riding toy with trunk leaning back, it will be much harder to move legs in forward motion. You can help to lean child’s trunk forward slightly by placing your hand against their lower back and placing gentle forward pressure.

3. Steer on Riding Toy

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Once child masters the ability to scoot forward, you can practice steering on riding toy. Begin by allowing child to bump into obstacles and then assisting. You can use the word “turn”, placing your hands over the child’s to turn the handlebars. Let child scoot along and wait until child encounters another obstacle. Help again and repeat this until they begin to reflexively turn the handlebars independently. After this point, now use the word “turn” before child bumps into obstacles. Allowing opportunities for child to learn to steer independently and motor plan effectively to avoid obstacles.

4. Ride a Tricycle with Support to Pedal and Steer

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Once your child shows a real interest in the tricycle and their legs are long enough for feet to easily reach the pedals, you can begin practicing riding a tricycle with support. The initial set up and fit of the tricycle are important. Here are some features to be mindful of when shopping for a tricycle:

  1. Handlebars: Ideal position of handlebars is close to trunk or angled toward trunk with child seated on tricycle seat. Want to ensure child can grasp both handlebars comfortably without leaning forward too much to alter center of gravity.
  2. Pedals: Pedals need to be positioned close enough to the seat to allow child to comfortably rest feet flat on pedals as they move within a complete revolution. 
  3. Seat: Ideal seat includes some back support, at least 4-5 inches high. A bucket seat or a contoured will also help to support child’s trunk. This support will be important to ensure more effective forward motion and help child build momentum when pedaling.
  4. Base: A wider base provides more stability for child and less chance of tipping over!

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In addition to these features it is important to think about a way to secure child’s feet on pedals, especially as the child is only beginning to learn the motor pattern of pedaling. Allowing the child to experience the revolution of the pedals as the tricycle moves forward with external assistance will help to teach this skill. You can get creative with velcro or fabric tape to secure feet, many tricycle companies also sell foot pedal attachments with velcro straps to secure child’s feet to pedals. It is important to note that with child’s feet secured on pedals, if they tip over they will not be able to put foot out to catch themselves. Maintain close supervision and safety to prevent tricycle from tipping over.

Once child is in position with feet supported on pedals, they are ready to go for a ride – that is with an adult pushing! This is a great opportunity to get used to the movement of the pedals, the balance reactions, weight shifting, feel of the handlebars and of course feel the wind through their hair! The best position to push your child on the tricycle is from behind, many of the newer models offer steering support from behind as well.

4. Steer and Pedal a Tricycle Down an Inclined Surface

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When your child is familiar with the pedaling and reciprocal leg motion, tolerates the tricycle riding with support and is enjoying riding the tricycle, try letting them ride down a 1-2 degree inclined surface free of obstacles. You can assist with initiating forward movement and encourage child to pedal as they move down the inclined surface. Gravity will make it easier to pedal and motivation is linked to success in this task! Stay close by for assistance with steering if necessary.

5. Steer and Pedal a Tricycle on a Level Surface

tricycle kidsWhen your child attempts to pedal on level surfaces or keeps pedaling after the inclined surface becomes level, you are ready to practice riding on flat surfaces! Oftentimes the initiation of movement is the hardest obstacle to overcome. You can assist by placing gentle pressure on knee or foot into one pedal or by gently nudging the tricycle forward. While child is focusing on pedaling, you may need to assist with steering. Even if child is able to steer, at first, all concentration may be devoted to the arduous task of pedaling! When child is able to pedal well while looking ahead (and not down at feet!), child is ready to practice steering and pedaling simultaneously. 

Some other Helpful Tips:

  1. Limit accessories at first. Streamers, horns, and fancy decorations may serve as more of a distraction as child is learning to ride the tricycle. Once child masters the skill of riding and steering, add on the accessories as you please!
  2. Teach pedaling and steering separately. Focus on one skill at a time. Doing both at once may overwhelm child. 
  3. Use motivators and practice when child wants to. The best motivators are usually other children and peers riding their tricycles. We never want to impose riding on the child, as that may cause greater resistance and associate negative feelings with what should be a fun activity!
  4. Provide verbal, visual and tactile cues. Children learn activities through experiencing each activity themselves, seeing others doing it, or watching themselves. Find the verbal, visual and tactile cues that work best for each individual child. These cues will help the child to understand the activity as they gain mastery. For Abe gentle pressure through his feet as well as the cue “Go Feet Go” helped teach pedaling motion!
  5. Use smooth surface and large open space. Your child will be able to pedal more easily and further on a smooth surface. If the surface is rough or uneven, it will be harder to pedal independently. An open space allows child greater freedom to explore steering and pedaling independently without distractions or obstacles.
  6. Practice riding with supportive shoes. Rubber soles of shoes will help keep feet on pedals, and provide more stable base to push off from.
  7. Don’t forget your helmet! Starting with safe habits at an early age is important!

Our Favorite Tricycles Include:

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  1. Kettler: Kettler Air & Kettler Happy Navigator: Both options offer seat belt and push bar, which can be removed once child is safe and independent! Ability to grow with child with adjustable seat, locking pedals and wheels to allow for coasting, braking and pedaling, as well as great steering control! tricycle
  2. Radio Flyer 4 in 1: Fantastic design, converts from a stroller, steering trike, learning-to-ride trike and finally a classic tricycle. Offers adjustable seat, comfortable headrest which provides neck support, removable wrap around tray with cup holder, removable 3-point safety harness, and adult steer and stroll bar adjusts for comfort. Pedals convert into footrests for child’s comfort when being pushed. tricycle
  3. Little Tikes Perfect Fit 4 in 1: Similar to the Radio Flyer this tricycle grows and adapts with your child! Offering full shade canopy to protect child from all angles, high-back seat for comfort and safety, adjustable seat with the flip of a switch, full foot platform fully protects little feet, large parent storage bucket and bottle holder, as well as safety-bar with cup/snack holder!

We hope you enjoyed our post Teaching Children to Ride a Tricyle! Check out our next post in the series, Teaching Children to Ride a Bicycle!

bicycle riding

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