A month or so ago, my son was taken to Reddish Vale Farm by the childminder, and he had such a great time that he kept wanting to be taken back. “Want to go to the farrrrm. Want to go on the tractorrrrs”, he would say. It did sound interesting; lots of animals to see up close, and even feed. We assumed the tractors were non-functioning proper tractors that the kids could climb on, or something.
So, when the weather was nice, and we all woke up early enough, we went to the farm. It opens a bit late in the morning, so we went for a walk around the pond at Reddish Vale Country Park first. While we walked around, he kept asking if he could go on the tractors..
11am came, and we went into the farm. The first barn had chicken chicks, guinea pigs, lambs, rabbits, and birds. Ace stuff! He was only half interested, though – he was more interested in getting to the tractors! Let’s get the ruddy tractors out of the way, I thought, and I let him show me the way. Round a corner, past a bouncy castle, aaand.. oh dear!
They weren’t real tractors – they were pedal tractors!
It had cost me nearly a tenner to get in, and the only thing he wanted to see were a load of plastic pedal tractors. gaaaah!
He was rubbish at pedalling (a tricky concept for a 2 year old), and preferred to push himself around with his legs, as it was faster and less annoying for him. He got the hang of steering, though, and as he pushed himself about, I wondered if such a thing would be worth buying.
We’ve bought him stuff with wheels before. He had a three-wheeled bug thing that his grandparents had bought him, but the wheels were too small to be of any use on carpet or grass, and when he was outside he preferred to walk, so it never got used. A while later we bought him a 4 wheeled scooter (one of the ones where you can remove wheels as the kid gets better at scooting), but it was still rubbish on grass or carpet. He took it out on the pavement a few times, but scooting was so slow for him that he preferred walking. He’s an impatient sort. 😛 The tractors didn’t look like they’d be much good on grass either.
A couple of weeks went by, and I came across the solution. There was a thread on BikeRadar about cycling with children. It was initially about quite old children on bikes, and the fun of going on a family ride, but then the subject of the best way of training children came up, and someone mentioned balance bikes as being the best way to train a child for proper cycling, because they don’t get kids used to stabilizers.
I’d never heard of balance bikes before, so I did a bit of searching. They’re bikes, but they don’t have pedals. The idea is that the kid uses it like a bike-shaped scooter, sitting on the saddle and pushing along with their feet. Eventually, they start experimenting with raising their feet, and they get used to balancing before pedalling.
He likes pushing along with his feet, and he likes to copy his parents (except if his parents are eating salad vegetables), so it seemed like something he might get into. I didn’t want to spend much moolah, just in case it got ignored, so I bought the cheapest balance bike I could find, which just so happened to also be the coolest-looking balance bike I could find; a Chicco Red Bullet for just under 30 squids.
It’s not the most advanced bit of engineering that I’ve ever come across.. the tyres are solid rubber, the wheels are plastic, there’s no bearings in the steering, and I’ve got a feeling that there’s no bearings in the wheels, either (stops him going too fast, I suppose). It’s supposed to be for children aged 3 to 5, but my son is 2.5 and he already needs the saddle to be higher than the ‘do not raise above this point’ line on the seat post. He is tall for his age, but I don’t think he’s as tall as a 5 year old! I guess they expect kids to waddle about like those weird guys I see on tiny BMXes, or on MTBs with the seats as low as they’ll go. I’m not sure how that’s going to help him balance. :s
Now, every time he’s in the back garden, he wants to get the bike out! He likes to push himself, and he especially likes to be pushed along. He’s not quite got the hang of dismounting (frankly, neither have I!), but he’s getting the hang of steering it himself, and he can push himself along quite quickly. The only thing holding him back at the moment is the size of the garden, so the next time the weather’s nice, and we haven’t got a ton of chores to do, we’ll see how he gets on at the park.
Now I just need to get the wife into cycling. I’m not sure she’s quite as open minded as my son. 😐