Setting the Scene

One of the most important things you can do you can do to support your child’s learning to ride journey is to engage them in the process. At Cyclabilites we feel the way you prepare your child and support their introduction to riding will significantly impact their success. We have identified a few strategies to ease the way.

Prepare your child

It’s important to begin to prepare your child well before you start teaching them to ride. Start with the basics. Work out whether or not they’re interested in learning to ride at all. If they are keen, find out what it is about riding that they are most interested in. These are really basic questions but they work on a couple of different levels. First, they start your child thinking about learning how to ride and begin the (often slow) process of getting them ready to start. Second, it will allow you to identify any of the particular challenges your child may face in learning to ride, and give you some clues about how to approach teaching your child. Emphasis the things they are interested in. Try to tackle potential issues and concerns that may hold them back before getting on the bike. As much as possible make it a safe and exciting challenge for them.

Set some goals

Setting goals is important for both of you. As the parent of a child with additional needs, you know your child may not achieve the same level of competence as a developmentally typical child, and if they are able to do so, the development of their skills may take longer, and they may need your support for much longer. While the end point is learning to ride a bike, it is helpful to develop some progressive goals along the way.

Developing some goals and clearly identifying the strategies and steps you will use to achieve them provides you with a plan. You have some clear direction about how to tackle this task with your child. It also allows you to adaptive and strategic. When things are going well you have direction as to what to do next. If things aren’t going well, you can review your goals and think about different strategies and step that may be more effective. It will also provide a means of measuring your child’s progress. While they may not be able to ride off to school by themselves just jet, they may be engaged in learning, they may have developed better balance and coordination in the time that you have been working on these skills.

It is important to write these goals down and keep a record of how your child is going. We have identified some tips to help you develop effective goals for your child:

  • Make them realistic. Consider your child’s needs, quirks, strengths and the areas that need more development.
  • Engage your child. If possible try to engage your child in developing goals. This may allow you to identify the achievements that are important to them, and to discuss the steps they need to take to get there. Consider introducing some rewards or incentives for their progress or effort. Ask them what would motivate them. This will reinforce their engagement in the process.
  • Break it down. Break you goals down into manageable steps and strategies to support the achievement of the goal. Think of each progressive goal as a step toward riding, and these identified strategies the pathway to get there, the tools you can use.

Below are some examples of what a couple of your initial goals might look like.

Goal 1: Get Tim excited about starting to ride
Steps: 1.   Talk to Tim about learning to ride and what type of bike he would like.

2.   Select a few bikes that would suit and take him to choose one he likes.

3.   Look though some magazines with Tim to find some bike riding pictures.

4.   Borrow some books about riding form the library to look through together.


Goal 2: Get Tim walking/sitting on a balance bike
Steps: 1.   Take Tim to the school oval.

2.   Get him familiar with the bike, talk about the parts and how it works. Let him touch and adjust and play around.

3.   Get him to sit on the seat and stand still.

4.   Get him to stand up and walk around over the bike.

5.   When he is comfortable get him to sit on the bike and walk around.

Creating the right space and getting started

A really important step before getting started is creating an effective space for your child to learn in. There are several considerations here, all of which will depend on the particular needs of your child. These are also likely to change over time so it is a good idea to revisit this idea of a good learning space as your child’s skills and confidence improves.

  • Surface. Think about the surface when choosing your location. It should be relatively flat and open, with plenty of room for your child to manoeuvre and move around. It should be smooth (free from debris, rocks, glass, potholes). Hard or soft? What would your child feel most comfortable starting out on?
  • Noise and other sensory inputs. While particularly important for children with sensory issues, for all children it is important to think about the noise level and other sensory inputs in the space that you choose. Find somewhere relatively quiet, avoid street noise, other people and try to select somewhere with as few visual and auditory inputs as you can manage. In addition to reducing the load for children that struggle with sensory issues, this will help all children focus more effectively on the riding.
  • Distractions. It’s important to try to find somewhere as free of distractions as you can. This is particularly relevant for children that struggle with attention and behavioural regulation, but will aid all children with maintaining their focus on riding. If distractions become an issue perhaps begin the session by allowing your child some time to engage with whatever it is that’s distracting them (a play equipment, looking at the ducks, people watching, whatever it is) and negotiate time after the session to do the same. A visual schedule may be useful to support this.
  • This one is an obvious one. Think about how the space you are choosing is used. What risks are around? How can you minimise these? How much space is available around your child? Traffic, other riders and pedestrians are all important considerations.

When you’re getting started we would recommend somewhere like a school netball or basketball court during a quiet time. Many schools will also have cushioned play surfaces that may also be ideal. These spaces allow you to address most of the concerns raised above and are relatively accessible. We also suggest that you avoid bike paths initially if possible, instead selecting somewhere that will provide your child with lots of space in all directions and present as few safety concerns as possible.

For many children with additional needs you will also need to be flexible (you know this! You parent them all the time). Pick a time when their mood is conducive to learning. This may be in the morning or after they have eaten. If their mood changes and they become agitated let yourself pull the pin and try again another time.  If you find after some time things aren’t working out quite as you hoped then perhaps consider making some changes to the riding space so that it better meets the needs of your child.