Hawaii Youth Need Adult Help In Learning To Ride Bikes

Imagine standing in the peanut gallery at a school ceremony. Slowly, another parent moves shoulder to shoulder, pre-pandemic, and whispers side-lipped, “My college roommate taught me to ride a bike.

With joking sincerity I responded, “Tell me more — anything you say, can — and will — be used for the benefit of children.”

When and where did you learn to ride a bike, and who taught you? Stigma surrounds not being able to ride a bike, thus, many stories go untold.

As a society, the way we talk about — and don’t talk about — biking and pedestrian safety, is broken. The way we are expecting it to change is broken too.

How will things get better, more safe?

Likely, most adults in Hawaii never got much biking and pedestrian safety training, and now they influence community-shaping policies and are the decision-makers for children.

While many parents might know how to ride a bike, they lack knowledge how to train a child to ride a bike, including myself prior to 2009.

I’m a national expert in biking education for children up to 8 years old. Here’s some thoughts.

New Approach Underway

According to the 2019-2024 Hawaii Early Childhood State Plan there are approximately 154,000 children under the age of 8 in Hawaii. Page one of the plan provides compelling statements about brain development, connection to cultural values, long term success of people and society, and the unfortunate lack of access to resources.

Starting with the youngest population, biking will become normal over time much like the environmental movement that started in 1972. As an example, many children today think recycling and composting are normal because of home practice and reinforcement in school and community programs.

screenshot from Brian Canevari's bike instruction video
An image from Brian Canevari’s bike instruction video. Screenshot/2022

With the hope of inspiring adults to see through a different lens, come together and focus action, I recently traveled to Washington, DC, for National Bike Summit 2022 to present Biking Education for Children up to 8 years of age.

A nine-minute video recording of my presentation shows the biking education most never seen.

Researchers all agree psychomotor development occurs during the first three years of life, and some argue the first five. However, biking education on Oahu starts at 8-to-9 years old, in the fourth grade, likely because the program takes children out into the roadway. We can’t wait that long.

And it’s all about the arms and hips, push-push, wiggle-wiggle!

Pre-natal training, aka parenting classes, should include information on biking and pedestrian safety. At 12 months, hip and arm movement activities start while balance bikes — learners’ bicycle that have no pedals — are introduced at 18-24 months. It’s never too late to start, though.

Equity means fair and impartial for all children. All preschools and daycare facilities should have balance bikes onsite or at least have access to equipment if space does not permit. Based on many visits and calls to preschool and daycare centers on Oahu, things will improve if parents and guardians ask for balance bikes to be made available.

The UH Manoa Children’s Center has used balance bikes on play yards for over eight years, citing vestibular development. Providing space and equipment is really all that’s needed. Children will observe and partake on their own. It’s easy to see social emotional development too.

Free balance bike rides at free public events like Hawaii Children and Youth Day in October have been wildly successful, with parents asking, “Where can we get more?”

Children learn the skill in 10 minutes and only leave because the parents want to move on. (Next time I’ll suggest a set of comfortable chairs for the parents to relax in the shade.)

Pediatricians should ask during checkups, “Does the child ride a balance bike?” To adults fixed on whether or not a child is pedaling: let’s talk about it in another discussion, please. We need cross pollination.

Parents are looking for balance bike and pedestrian safety education for their children.

There seems to be a disconnect between two groups with skill sets, however: A group comfortable with biking and those comfortable with early childhood development. Observing the growing number of successful programs nationwide, the only pre-requisites are that someone have, or some group, the desire and good management skills. Parents are looking for balance bike and pedestrian safety education for their children. A funded program would fill the current resource gap and generate equity.

As a community we need to follow what we teach children. Life is better when we establish rules and follow them.

In the Netherlands, the citizens came together in the late 1960s demanding change from a congested and terrible car-centric community design to what we see today — 55 years of incremental and intentional biking and pedestrian infrastructure that also includes cars. The key to success was, and still is today, community cohesion for a better way of living.

The 1991, the Japan-based Nippon TV series “Old Enough!” shows toddlers running errands for their families, demonstrating the relativity of things. Parents can’t train their children in the open community if the infrastructure is not safe. That’s why traffic gardens in school settings are growing rapidly.

Force Multipier

Awareness community biking is growing. Credit should be given to the 2008 free trainings for Safe Routes to School and Complete Streets programs through the Hawaii Department of Health, Healthy Hawaii Initiative, and the Hawaii Department of Transportation.

And just over a year ago I helped co-found a nationwide discussion, the Early Childhood Mobility Coalition, focused on biking education for children up to 8 years of age. This coalition brings together a diverse expertise to provide information, technical research, support, and is growing. You might just say, we are now rolling.

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