On a recent visit to Wellington I was out walking in one of the hilly suburbs and I came across a small child on his wonderful balance bike at the top of a very steep hill without an adult in sight ahhhhh…. Dad was on his way, he was getting gear and a smaller sibling out of the car, doing that juggle thing; juggling attention, juggling time, juggling equipment. I stopped the toddler and asked him to wait for Dad as what I was envisioning was not a great outcome.
“A balance bike gives me speed and mobility but that speed and mobility can put me at risk – I need your help to keep me safe”.
In our previous balance bike story we discussed why we should embrace the balance bike. However, if your child has a balance bike you also need to embrace making sure your child is safe when they ride it.
Ride in appropriate environments and on appropriate terrain. Balance bikes often come without any means of braking. If it does have a braking mechanism are they old enough to use it? Generally they are relying on their legs and feet to slow their momentum. Therefore some things to consider;
- Is the ground relatively flat?
- If there is a slope – is there a safe, flat slow down area?
- Will they be able to stop safely using their feet
Safe environments to consider using; tar sealed areas in schools, tennis courts, walkways, cycleways and some or parts of pump tracks.
If they are riding near and around vehicles they need to be;
- Supervised. Consider your ability to supervise? Do you have other children to watch over? Will or could you be distracted? Is your mobility affected by a buggy or carrying equipment or another child. Consider the child on the bike? How fast can they go? Can you keep up, if you needed to? How well do they respond to verbal instruction, like STOP? You will need to evaluate the situation, each situation will be different, each child will be different and assess whether it is safe to ride in ‘this environment’.
- Visible. Your child is small and fast on a balance bike making them difficult to see. Make sure that vehicles are given the best chance to see them. They are particularly vulnerable when riding on footpaths and their size means they often will be out of the vision of a driver backing out of or into a driveway.
- Make them be seen by giving them height – use a flag. Make them visible to the driver. Let’s see more flags on small bikes like the balance bike.
- Have your child in bright visible clothing with a bright visible helmet on their head.
- Heard. A mini hornit is a fun and loud horn that can help children let others know they are here, that they are coming. A horn can initially be a distraction – the 25 sounds are super fun, so why wouldn’t they use it lots. Give them time to overcome the distraction in a safe environment and then that horn will be functional as well as fun.
Make sure your child is seen and heard.
The child uses their feet to both propel, slow down and stop on a balance bike. The child should therefore be wearing shoes. You may want to consider teaching them ways to stop without wrecking their shoes if this is important or have designated balance bike shoes.
Note:learning to use their legs and feet on a balance bike helps teach children the important safety skill of putting their feet down when they lose balance on a bike.
Where a bright helmet and bright clothing
get Safe and goRide – Balance bikes – Tips on safety
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