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The Benefits of Balance Bikes for Learning through Play

Guest Post by Karen Wood, Founder of Kidvelo Balance Bikes.

Play matters. It is how babies and children primarily learn about the world around them and develop skills in the first 5 years of their life, and the core of what Tots Play is all about.

Like so many things in our lives though, the way children play has not escaped the impact of the pandemic, especially for those who are now toddlers and pre-schoolers, and this has the potential to have an effect on development over the longer term if this doesn’t change.

Karen Wood, founder of Kidvelo Balance Bikes explains more about the problem and how we can help address it in this special guest post she has written for us.

Play and Development

It is widely recognised amongst Early Years experts that a lack of play or not progressing passed "low-level" play damages child development and is linked to lower educational attainment in young children

In schools, whilst monitoring children returning after the pandemic to nursery settings and pre-schools, teachers have been reporting a worrying trend; that language skills, social skills, and imagination are lacking.

In Foundation stage classes (Nursery and Reception), there is time set aside for "discovery time". A time of day that young children are encouraged to play independently, allowing them to problem-solve, collaborate with others, investigate new toys, and use their imagination. This is the time for child-initiated learning, which helps kids to play on their terms and explore the world around them without intervention from teachers. You may have noticed that Tots Play classes also have this type of play built into each session, which is great preparation for when children are ready to go on to nursery and school.

Unfortunately, teachers report they are witnessing more "low-level" play occurring, along with many children struggling to engage with others in their class.

So what is "low-level" play, and why does it matter how kids play?

It’s known as Low-level play when children fail to use their imagination and seem stuck in the same game, without any development, if played repetitively. An example could be a role play game, where a child is pretending to be an animal, but the game never changes from day to day; the same child is always the same animal, perhaps a tiger, and the "game" never really moves beyond this. The child might not seem to use their imagination in the way they play, such as setting a scene in a jungle or making noises of other "jungle" animals. It could be that this game is played daily, without change, and child is reluctant to engage with other toys or games.

Another way this happens is when children don’t get the opportunity to play with others and so don't develop speech, vocabulary and imagination that comes naturally whilst playing with other children. It matters because "low-level" play in children is linked to lower educational attainment.

Reasons for this decline could be that busy parents have had to allow more screen time than usual, to get their jobs completed during the lockdowns, along with there having been less opportunity to mix with other children throughout the pandemic. As a result, children have had to play on their own, without interaction with others, which has slowed language skills and, in some children, caused anxiety about mixing with others. We have witnessed this ourselves as parents, but our children are now teenagers, not pre-schoolers. Still, both kids have developed anxiety in crowded places, so the impact on the age group of the under 5's, where they predominantly learn through playing, is a genuine concern.

As we continue to navigate society opening up, along with better weather and longer days as we head towards summer, there are now more opportunities to enhance play for our toddlers and pre-schoolers. One great way to do this is to get them out and about on a balance bike.

How can balance bikes help?

Kidvelo has written articles both about the Benefits of Balance Bikes. and the importance of playing games on balance bikes., and how they offer the perfect early riding and play experience for children from around 18 months up to school age and even beyond.

A balance bike opens up a new world of exploring, mainly because the child is in control and can move themselves along a path of their choosing. This independence helps develop gross motor skills and spatial awareness. The child's balance improves, and confidence grows.

Encourage creativity within the games being played to help stimulate imagination and further learning and development. Here are some suggestions;

  • Maths doesn't have to be learnt by using magnetic numbers stuck on the fridge. Perhaps count trees, dogs, people, lorries etc, whilst out on your bike rides. You are introducing speech and improving vocabulary. You can extend it to "count all the red lorries" as an example.

  • Give your child ideas. Let your toddler pretend to be riding their horse/camel/ even an elephant; it doesn't matter, but pretend play is essential. They could hose off their "horse" on their return. Even feed it. Let your child take the lead. You can pretend to ride yours too and join in the fun. Anything that lets their imagination run free.

Play with others.

Playing with other children on bikes is an excellent way for kids to interact with others. No words are needed or awkward introductions; when kids spot others the same age riding, they tend to all join in and ride together. Group play adds a further element to the experience, and builds those all important social skills.

Try new places

By trying new places to ride balance bikes, you will give further opportunities for different experiences as well as meeting new people. There are some great bike parks and skateparks to switch things up a gear and make each ride a unique experience. The great thing about these bikes is that they are small and light, so easy to put in the car if there is nowhere close enough to ride.

Join a Balance Bike Club or Class.

Over the past 10 years, many small clubs have started to encourage kids to ride together, with some sessions being led by instructors. You may find balance bike sessions at a local school or cycling club and many BMX clubs now allow members from the age of two, so get involved.

Action Tots classes from Tots Play are a great example of using balance bikes in an action-packed lesson, enabling kids to have fun, learn new skills and play with others, so if you have a little one between 2 and 4 years old and haven't tried it out yet, find and book a class near you HERE.

Time to up-level our little one’s play

Tots Play has always stressed the importance of play, and the vital role that you have, as your child’s first and most important teacher. Why not join a class near you for lots of ideas and opportunities for your little one to engage in play that will support their development for years to come.

About Karen Wood: – Karen’s own children were early adopters of balance bikes. Having witnessed how successful they were for her children she started retailing balance bikes in 2009, before becoming the official Strider Distributor for the UK. In 2019, Karen and Gary Wood, put their expertise into manufacturing their own range, Kidvelo® Bikes. Balance Bikes for children aged 1-years-old to 8-years-old.

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