Trikes: 3-Wheeled Freedom!

The weather is turning warmer and invites us all to go outside for some active play. Trikes are a great way to engage young children outdoors. For 12 years I was the “Outdoor Teacher” at a preschool. I pulled out the tricycles, “big wheels,” bicycles, scooters, wagons and pedal cars daily. They were always very popular with the children, and riding toys such as trikes offer many opportunities for children to grow physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively. Toys that children can ride on their own offer opportunities for them to feel autonomous, develop gross motor skills, role play and to learn to follow rules. You know the educational benefits exist, so here are some ideas to help get you rolling:
First, remember that children should wear bike helmets when riding wheel toys. The helmet should sit on top of the child’s head, not tilted back at an angle. Make sure the strap fits securely and that the buckle stays fastened. (Visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission for more information at http://www.cpsc.gov/.) Helmets should only be worn while riding and should be taken off during play, especially on a playground as a child’s head may get stuck in playground equipment while wearing a helmet, causing serious injury. Children who associate wearing a helmet with riding a trike from the start are more likely to adopt the habit permanently.
For safety reasons, the space for using riding toys should be distinct from the equipment areas. If possible, choose a part of your playground with a hard surface and set up a safety zone. Provide vehicle pathways with adequate staging areas and routes in and out with painted or lines for parking spaces of trikes and bikes. You can enhance children’s use of this area by adding traffic signs, chalk road markers, directional arrows and cones to control traffic. Build a ramp so children can drive their trikes into the “garage.” Invite children to be riders or traffic officers; this will help involve children who are not on a trike and creates an opportunity for cooperative group play.
Prop boxes can extend trike play activities, too. A “hospital” prop box, for example, can turn bike riders into ambulance drivers and non-riders into “doctors.” Children also enjoy using tricycles in conjunction with fire station, police and mail delivery props. Similarly, you can introduce ideas or materials to support gas station or car wash dramatic play that can include practice of counting and learning currency. Whatever props you choose to use, whether elaborate or entirely imaginary, the result will be fun!
Riding a trike puts the child in the “driver’s seat,” providing that sense of power and freedom. To pedal a trike and keep one’s balance are abilities worth a lot in the life of a preschooler!
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