These past few days watching the snow melt has me outside with my boys as much as I can. It’s funny how warm 40 degrees feels in February! I have found myself resurrecting the ride-on toy fleet from the way-back of the garage. And my kids want them ALL out. Scooters, bikes, tricycles, wagons – like yesterday.
Does this sound like your house?
Ride-on toys involve moving, using both sides of the body to propel yourself forward, balancing and making turns. This is the outcome of efficient motor coordination, perceptual motor skills and sensory regulation. All of these skills are essential for proper physical development. In my work as a pediatric occupational therapist, I often work with children to develop these essential functions using a variety of ride-on toys.
Early Scoot Toys
These are those wide-based toys that babies can push with two legs at a time before they can master reciprocal (alternate) pushes. This reciprocal motion involves the two sides of the brain working together, essential for coordination. Scooting around the kitchen island or down the hallway lets them navigate their environment and learn to steer. Rocking horses are great too – just the act of motor planning how to get your body on/off takes skill. Shifting weight forward/backward to “giddyap” is important. Toddlers use this motion to learn about balance reactions and staying in motion.
Mastering tricycle riding is harder for some kids than others. Getting a metal trike going from a dead stop, when there’s rough concrete and sand in the road can be tricky! It’s important for kids to understand staying in motion and to want to sustain it. A lack of lower body strength, and skills like motor planning can interfere with learning to ride. If it’s difficult – make sure that the tricycle is lightweight, start on a hill, or inside on a smooth floor with less friction.
Toddler scooters are great for little ones to learn how to stabilize and balance on one leg while using the other for movement. Look for a strong base of support, usually 2 wheels in front, to prevent tipping. Older scooter riders can go for a narrow 2-wheeled version. These can hold more weight and can go faster. For scooter reviews and recommendations, look here.
These are my all-time fave ride-on. Balance bikes can serve kids as young as 18 months, and have adjustable seats for growth. Getting the idea of balancing while in motion is hard to teach on traditional tricycles and bicycles with training wheels. Many children go from a balance bike to a traditional 2-wheeler with no training wheels. For some recommendations on the best balance bike, check this out.
Progressing to riding a bike is one of those hallmarks of childhood. It’s a step of independence, and a sign of growing up. It can be so hard for some kids, but important too. Bike riding is the culmination of those early motor skills all “clicking” and coming together. As an OT who teaches kids to ride as part of therapy, I know balance is critical. I have taken pedals off older kids’ bikes to make a balance bike. Starting with scooting and coasting, they can perfect their turns while having their feet ready to stop.
Alternate Ride-On Toys
For kids who aren’t ready for the next bike, or need to switch things up, try something different. Big wheel tricycles (remember these from your childhood?) let kids get the idea of pedaling and gaining speed without the balance part. Check out these modern ergonomic 3-wheelers. They are low to the ground so gravity can help overcome some anxiety, and they can be easier to pedal. Roller racers require more movement from the upper half of the body to move, and helps to work on body awareness and motor planning to steer. Plasma cars are another similar option, where the user turns the steering wheel from side to side to move.
What are your favorite ride-on toys for kids?
I know the groundhog predicts 6 more weeks of winter, but lets think spring! Get the kids outside!