Physical development: On your bike!

Use Bike Week to re-think how you use wheeled vehicles in your setting and make the most of their potential to challenge children's balance, strength and control.

Sarah Davies

Bike Week falls between 6 and 14 June and encourages people to get out on their bikes making cycling part of their daily lives. Tricycles, balance bikes and bikes are a part of every setting, but they are often just available for the children to access in outdoor play and are not used to their full potential as a learning tool.

Before you start

Look carefully at your bikes and make sure they are all in good condition. It is imperative that you have enough bikes so that children do not have to wait too long to take their turn; you may all need to have a discussion about whether you to limit the number of children who can access the bike area at any one time and/or whether they can only have a set amount of time on the bikes to enable everyone to have a turn.

Encourage children to think creatively about their answers to these questions and not to simply settle on the first idea that comes to them. Your initial discussions could take place in key worker groups and then you could choose a few people from each group to present their ideas to the whole class, before coming up with an agreed set of ideas for how the system will work. This could then be reviewed by the whole cohort after an agreed period of time to see if it is working and whether or how it might need to be amended to accommodate the realities of the situation.

Playing and exploring

  • Children have fun when they experience cycling
  • They seek challenge through practising their bike riding skills
  • They role-play bike maintenance

Talk to them about their experiences of riding bikes, find out whether they have ridden bikes, what sort of bikes and what they would like to do next (possibly moving from a tricycle to a bicycle, or from a balance bike to a peddle bike).

Encourage them to think about how they might challenge themselves and that learning new skills or consolidating existing ones will come through practice and effort, rather than necessarily coming easily to them. Use your knowledge and observations to help them to plan how they will develop their skills.

Invite parents and carers who are cyclists to visit your setting along with their bikes to talk about some of their cycling experiences. You may also like to invite some of them to show children how to do some basic maintenance on their bikes. It is important to remind children that they should not be doing any of this work as it is dangerous and should only be undertaken by adults. You could also plan a community cycle in a local park to raise funds for your setting or a charity of your choice.

Give the children time to explore and play with the wheeled toys. Help them to look at the machines and think about how they work properly and efficiently, look at the handlebars, the wheels and the peddles. Are there any bits missing or broken? Do the wheels turn smoothly? If there are tyres, are they pumped up properly? Encourage children to do these checks every time they select a ride along toy to spend time on.

Show them that when they sit on a bike they should be able to put both their feet on the ground comfortably. If they cannot, then the bike is too big for them and they need to select another machine. A bicycle that is too big will make it difficult to ride and will be unsafe.

Remind them that clothes that are too baggy can be dangerous while riding, so they should think about what they are wearing and whether they need to think about changing their clothes or adapting them in some way.

Active learning

  • Children build confidence by trying new skills on their bike
  • They concentrate on maintaining balance
  • They listen and make judgements

Help children to develop the physical skills and strengths they need to successfully cycle by giving them a range of activities to build their skills (see Resources). For example, children can try sitting on their bike and then walking their feet out to the sides as wide as possible using small steps. Can they keep their upper body and bike still?

Mark a ‘glide start’ point and ask children to scoot or stride towards it. On reaching the start, can they lift feet from the ground and glide as far as possible?

Be specific when you are praising or supporting them in their plans to develop or consolidate their cycling skills. Keep careful notes of how the children are exploring and then add further resources to enhance their learning.

Once you have introduced new resources such as helmets and jackets, make sure they have the time to explore the new things before they begin applying them to their bike learning. In your observations look for signs of deep involvement to identify learning that is intrinsically motivated.

Creating and thinking critically

  • Children plan, make decisions about how to approach a task, solve a problem and reach a goal
  • They review how well the approach has worked
  • They understand safety issues and can talk about them

Help children to plan opportunities to travel across different levels and different surfaces, this will challenge both their control and their physical skills. You and the children will also need to think about safe ways to cycle in your environment, mark out boundaries and think about how to travel around the space. You may want to consider painting or drawing road markings on to part of your outdoor ground so that children can practise their road sense.

Once you have planned your space for riding you can challenge children to draw maps of the space. Even those who are not riding bikes may want to access the space designated for riding, so you must also agree how pedestrians will move across the space.

Encourage children to think about the safety aspects of using the riding space, record their thoughts and help them to think about more than just the first idea that they come up with so that the experience of the space can be enjoyed by all. You will need to model how to be a thinker.

Do not be afraid to admit that sometimes you do not always know the answers. Be curious and sometimes puzzled and help children to learn about where they can find answers to the questions they have formed.

EYFS Early Learning Goals

You will be able to observe how children show good control and co-ordination in their use of bikes and develop awareness of the importance of checking bikes are in good working order for riding.

Note how they choose to wear the appropriate clothing and safety equipment while riding and demonstrate knowledge of how to keep themselves and others safe while cycling. Think about how all of these contribute to particular goals.

Useful resources

  • Tricycles, balance bikes, bicycles, high visibility jackets, helmets, map making materials.

  • – A resource from British Cycling to help you and the children in your setting to gain the skills needed to ride safely and confidently

Key learning points

  • Children develop and/or consolidate the skills required for riding a bike
  • They plan and carry out their own learning
  • Children explore their own interests and express their preferences

Key words:

  • Tricycle, balance bike, bicycle, bike, helmet, safety, wheels, pedals, tyres, planning, map making, road markings.

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