Monday, March 10, 2014

Bicycling: Can Kids Ride Their Way to Academic Success?


Huffy Green Machine Tri-Bike

WHAT: My virtual eye-shopping trip at KIDS' Bicycles at Big W, Australia
DOES: Gets one thinking about outdoor activities especially those of us who are facing milestone moments: first trike, first bike with training wheels, or the ominous first big kid two-wheeler sans helper wheels
INVEST: $54 and up
TOOLS: My Body Needs to Move

New York City has seen way too much snow this year.  My kids and I are anxious to start playing more outdoors.  This year, I have a huge parenting goal when it comes to outdoor play.  I am going to finally teach my youngest son how to ride a two-wheeler.  We missed the boat on that last year when he was six.  His training wheels broke off and rather than getting a new pair, we thought that he would be motivated to just learn how to ride without them. It's kind of like a mama bird throwing babies out of the nest so they can just start flying.

You may have already known this but it was news to me that birds do not do that- only stupid parents like me try this tactic. And not surprisingly, my son did NOT learn how to ride without training wheels last year. I tried to hold onto his bike from behind and while I promised to not let go until he said it was okay but GOODNESS, the kid never said, "Mom, you can let go now," and so I nearly died of exhaustion running circles around the track.

We had a tricycle but I didn't like it.  It was super expensive too.  Looking back, I wonder if I shouldn't have just bought a tiny two wheeler like this. Huffy Girls Sweet Style Bike
What is that spring in the middle?  Of course, my son would want this one.  Yellow and black.. Always very masculine, isn't it. Huffy Boys BMX Bike

The sad part is that I actually don't know how to teach a kid to ride a two-wheeler.  My older son just got on someone else's bicycle (one without training wheels) one day and zipped away.  I barely had enough time to say, "be careful!"  But my little one... he's making me work so hard! Thus, this post comes at a critical time for me.  I really need to think about all the great reasons to go biking. I need to motivate my own self! Ha! Truly, I didn't like it that he didn't ride so much last year.

If you were 4th grade girl, would you go for the sea green and blue?  Diamondback Mizz Della Cruz Superlite
Or are you a fuschia and silver girl instead? Huffy Girls Rock Candy Cruiser

So What If He Can't Ride? He Can Still Go to College, Right?

Why is my little one so reluctant to just hop on and go?  There is probably some anxiety there.  Fear of new things is human but then I started to look at why he should even be cycling in the first place.  How important is it? Why pressure him? Maybe he's just a "scooter person" like how some people are "cat people."

Still, it isn't hard to see that biking burns calories, releases endorphins, helps with balance, and is good for the heart.  However there is one very substantial benefit that I didn't think about and that is strength.

Sometimes I think that the only muscle that parents are interested in building in their kids is the brain.   But then again, the brain is not really a muscle so the question begs: are we ever really paying attention to kids' muscles?  Maybe not, but we should.

But which muscles should we focus on?  You are probably thinking fingers and hands and legs...  write fast, run faster ...That is how I think but if that is a goal then biking can help because it is excellent at strengthening an often-forgotten part of our bodies- our core trunk muscles. (yes, this is a real term)

Core Trunk Muscles- An Illustration Thanks to Wikimedia

It's not because we should make sure our kids have "ABS of STEEL."  However, one of the most important lessons I learned while writing about all these toys that fall into the "active" category is that we need to focus on our kids' core trunk muscles.  This refers to the muscles around the spine, muscles of the lower back and abdominal area including muscles deep underneath your belly,.. oh, and the buttocks too. 

Oh wow, isn't this nice?  This is the Diamondback DB20 Silver Superlite. It has front brakes and pedal brakes too and it is very lightweight.  I never thought the weight of a bike would matter to me but Mr. Toys Are Tools only buys very lightweight bikes. All I know is that I want to die when I have to put it up or take it down from the bike rack. Argh.. still not light enough!!!

Two Immediate Reasons to Strengthen Their Core

1. Handwriting

Yes, handwriting. It might not make any sense to you but it is the truth. Before you can write a single letter (neatly, that is), you must be propped up, both your shoulder and your arms should be in place to hold pencil and paper, and then your finger and hands can do their very specific fine-tuned dance.  If you are not strong in any of those areas, your hands and fingers can only do so much.  Your writing will probably be pretty messy.  Try gently poking or massaging your child's arm and torso while she is writing and you'll see what I mean. They can't perform their duties.

Likewise, if your child has strong core trunk muscles, that will help her last longer when writing.  And I think that is especially important because messy handwriting at the end of an assignment is sometimes mistaken as a sign that the student stopped caring when in fact, she was just really tired. It's too bad we don't have more ball chairs in classrooms.  That would definitely strengthen those trunks more.

OMG- How cute is this? It is so cheap too. But guess what, I can not buy this one in New York! DARN! I know it's for girls but I WANT that pink basket.  I love this shade of pink! Reminds me of banana bikes, remember those?  Hyper Vintage Bike
Another reasonably priced awesome-looking bicycle that I can not buy here.  Oh dear! I'm starting to get upset. I thought I lived in the greatest city in the world? But I think I'd have a very hard time trying to get this here. I just love these colors! - Hyper Mountain Bike

2. Paying Attention in Class

This is a no-brainer but only if the thought enters your brain.  Of course you need a strong trunk to pay attention! How else do you hold yourself up? Does one really need to sit up to pay attention to not miss any of the instruction? I would say so and I would also say slouching is not appropriate classroom posture.

We have to remember that instruction in class is not just about what is heard, it is also about what is seen and I'm not talking about just facing a chalkboard. In a classroom, a student's attention may have to be directed towards the teacher one minute, the whiteboard the next, and then a fellow student the next minute after that because he just asked a question. You must be alert to look and listen or you'll miss what was said and come test day, your child will realize that he didn't quite get everything.

Constant slouching over the desk never looks good anyway.  Reasons that run through teachers' minds may include the following:
  • they are bored (could be true)
  • they don't want to learn (never true)
  • they are tired and didn't get enough sleep (could be true and let's face it, you'll look bad)
  • but will anyone think, "Oh this child has weak core trunk stability?"  Doubt that!

Bike Riding is Super Special

Riding a bicycle is as important to a child as getting a driver's license is important to a teen.  It's a rite of passage and I think it is because once you start riding, your child's outlook changes.  I think yours might too.  When my eldest started riding, I was proud of him but I was also a little sad because I knew he had just tasted freedom. Right then and there, you know you can just ride away from Mom and make her crazy.  For him, I'm sure it was a little scary, a bit humbling, but still really exhilarating. Every child should be able to experience that.

There are so many other reasons to go biking such as building better balance, (I actually found a video that talks a little bit about balancing activities before getting on the bikes!)  I also think that biking allows kids to be more social, and even support development in skills such as visual processing and visual motor coordination which are important now but even more important once they start asking for your car keys.

I am so grateful to the Big W in Australia for giving me this opportunity to dream about all the bicycles they carry.  I imagine that one day, I'll get to finally visit this unique continent and maybe my family will get to tour the countryside on bicycles too. Clearly, they have some very cool bikes there.  By then, my little guy will be riding a two-wheeler sans helper wheels.  I will make sure this happens - even if I have to hold onto his bike and run around the tracks over and over again until he lets me let him go.  But I really hope not because I'm so out of shape... ugh, I better start training now.

Disclosure:   Toys Are Tools is grateful to Big W, the sponsor of this post.

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