By: Dr. Michelle MD
There are three skills that every child should learn during childhood. They are; riding a two-wheel bike, skating (on ice or rollerblades), and swimming. It is ideal for learning these skills as a young child since learning gets much harder with age. All three activities are enjoyable throughout adult life. They also build self-confidence, coordination, and strength. Since many children can ride, skate, and swim, the child who cannot do them often feels inadequate because he or she is missing out on the fun.
I will briefly discuss swimming and skating, but the purpose of this article is to highlight important information about biking.
Swimming is fun, but it is more than a pleasure; it is a life-saving skill. Everyone should learn how to swim. The best way to learn is to receive instruction by licensed swim instructors. An adult who never learned to swim sometimes has a real fear of the water that can interfere with normal living. Even fearful adults have a chance. They can be taught to overcome their fear of water by trained professional swimming instructors. Knowing how to swim properly is essential for everyone- both for fun and safety.
Skating on ice is basic and straightforward since there is only flat ice in a rink. As with any new skill, a few lessons help to develop good technique and avoid bad habits. Although helmets are a good idea, no gear is required. Rollerblading is enjoyed in more varied terrain, including small downhills, which increase speed incredibly fast. Rollerblading requires full protective gear. Helmets, wrist guards, elbow guards, and knee guards are all essential to safe rollerblading. The skater must also learn to use the brake to control speed. Any protective gear that is not used will frequently result in an injury to the unprotected area.
Biking is an activity that can be enjoyed at any age. Here is some essential information:
Riding a bicycle requires a helmet. There is no question that helmets save lives and brain function every day. It is not a question of if you need a helmet. It is only a question of when. A young father I know recently suffered a mild concussion from a fall off of his bike while wearing a helmet. After he recovered, he noticed a dent in his helmet. The same fall, without a helmet, would probably have taken his life or left him brain-damaged. His helmet will have to be replaced. The proud helmet company will send him a new one when he tells them his story.
Helmets must be properly fitted on the head to really work when needed. This means a fairly tight fit that sits the helmet on the top of the head. The front of the helmet must cross the forehead. The straps should be tight enough to only fit two fingers between the strap and the chin. If your child is wearing a loose helmet that tilts up in the front to the hairline, you should adjust the helmet. The head is not well protected. Fitting helmets is sometimes difficult to do properly. It is a good idea to ask someone in a bike shop to teach you how to do it or ask them to fit the helmets on your kids and yourself. There is a new helmet design that has a dial on the back, which can be turned to tighten the fit around the head.
Here are a few useful facts about bike riding:
Most kids are ready to learn how to ride a two-wheeler by about five years of age. The best place to teach a new rider is in a wide-open area, like an empty schoolyard or parking lot, not on the sidewalk. This gives him room to turn awkwardly and still keep pedaling to gain balance without going into the street. The new riders should be given a helmet, knee guards, elbow guards, and thick winter gloves. This extra gear is only to prevent the painful scrapes that discourage them. Once he or she has mastered balance, steering, stopping, starting, and using the brake to slow down, only the helmet is needed.
The bike has to fit the rider. A bike that is too big or too small is much harder to control. The rider should be able to barely touch the ground with his feet while sitting on the seat. The seat height should be adjusted so that the rider almost, but not completely, extends the knee when he is pedaling.
Tires on bikes should be checked regularly to see if they have enough air. The tire should be firm when squeezed but not hard enough to resist squeezing. A soft semi-flat tire compromises the function of the bike and makes it prone to real flat tires. To inflate the tires, use a hand bicycle pump or go to a gas station or bike shop.
Brakes can be the source of a fall if not used properly. Bikes with hand brakes have two different brakes. The left-hand brake stops only the front wheel. The right-hand brake stops only the back wheel if both brakes are squeezed the bike stops. If only the right brake is squeezed, the bike will slow down. If the left brake is squeezed without the right, the bike often flips over and throws the rider over the handlebars. This is particularly important on bumps and down-hills and when riding fast. This means all riders must keep their hands on the handlebars near the brakes. Using the right hand to take a drink or wave to friends can easily result in a big fall if a sudden need arises to use the brakes.
These skills, when learned properly in childhood, can be enjoyed throughout adulthood. Parents and grandparents can swim skate and ride with their kids and grandchildren. These activities can be a source of recreation, exercise, and wonderful relaxation for a lifetime.