The kids are going back to school! If you’re like me, the parent of a Hedgehog rider, you likely woke up this morning to find that your four-year-old crawled into bed with you last night and is softly snoring into your face. Pre-K is a sweet age. My little son wants to be a big, independent kid – and he’s not quite there yet. My son goes to sleep on his own, for instance, but he still ends up crawling into our bed before morning.
I’d like for my son to ride his bike to his school, but it’s six miles from our house to school and we have to ride on a freeway overpass to get there. On a good day, he could make it, but it would be a big effort and he’d be cooked once he got to school. As Maria Montessori said, “Never let children risk failure until they have a reasonable chance of success.” I remind myself of this so often in parenting and not just when it comes to riding bikes.
Helping kids, especially in the squirrely pre K category feel successful on their bikes becomes key to having them want to ride more. I don’t have all the answers here, but I do have some tips for riding – to school or otherwise – with your pre-K rider. My goal is (more often than not) to finish each ride with a smile.
- Plan the route in advance – For kids five and under, bike paths are generally the safest routes. A wide shoulder or dedicated bike lane are good, too. Pre-ride your planned route with an eye to how it will be for your child. Try to avoid left turns into crowded intersections or steep climbs on roads with no shoulder. Better that your child finishes strong on a short sidewalk ride than feels overwhelmed by a 5-mile climb up a 20% grade.
- Bring a buddy – There’s power in numbers. My wife and I took our son on a six-mile hike last weekend only because friends joined us with their kids. The four parents took turns “inspiring” the kids to walk “just a little further.” For one ½ mile stretch we all had a silly walk competition where 7 of us were prancing in a spasdic conga line down the trail.
- Practice – Once you find a manageable route and a buddy to try it with, it’s worth practicing part of the ride before tackling the full century. Little kids, like adults, feel more confident in familiar situations. I mapped out a ride with my son this summer that went from Cleary Headquarters to a nearby beach. We didn’t reach the beach because my son spent an hour riding back and forth across a section of broken sidewalk along the way. He was perfectly happy about it and we did ultimately ride all the way to the beach the following weekend.
- Bring a lock. Kids are finicky. Just in case the whole ride goes south, I always bring a lock on rides with my son so if he does choose to go bonkers in the middle of a ride, I can lock his bike, put him on the back of my bike, and return later to pick up his rig.
- Bring snacks.Enough said. My son would swim the English channel for a peanut butter & Nutella sandwich.
When my son rides his own bike, I do the best I can to set him up to be successful. For now though, that means waiting a year before he rides himself to school.