Riding a bike is one of the simplest, most popular activities children enjoy. From what I have observed in my clinical work, it may be the third most common preferred activity among my patients after video games and Legos. Unfortunately, as many kids get older they seem to lose interest in bike riding, perhaps partly because making it more interesting by riding further distances and exploring their home towns is deemed dangerous due to traffic or other factors. But as more communities are building bike paths, trails, and bike parks that facilitate safer riding and more interesting routes, I am hopeful (particularly as a biking enthusiast myself) that more kids will maintain their interest in biking through their adolescent and adult years.
There is value in all types of biking (mountain, BMX, bike paths, and roads). Beyond the obvious health and physical dividends, vigorous exercise is crucial for attention, learning, and stress management. Bike riding also benefits executive functions and social-emotional learning skills (SEL). Here are some of the ways in which bike riding can be leveraged to teach SEL and executive-functioning skills.
BMX Bike Riding
Focus – Focus is very important when trying to complete a trick. Bike riders need to have total concentration while trying to do maneuvers to avoid getting hurt. Riders need to pay attention to every aspect of what they are doing because small details could be the difference between landing a trick and falling.
Working Memory – By using working memory, bike riders can recall tricks they were able to complete in the past and remember what skills they used to accomplish them. They can use the skills that worked for them in the past to complete new tasks successfully.
Self Control – Falling can readily discourage children in BMX bike riding. Children could practice self-control by not getting frustrated and upset when this happens and instead think about what they did wrong. They could use this frustration to make themselves better and think about how great it will feel when they finally master a trick. It is important that they maintain a positive attitude, because learning a new trick is often met with failure before mastering it. By showing self-control, they will be more likely to succeed in the long run.
Mountain Bike Riding
Focus – This executive function is essential in mountain biking because the terrain could be very unpredictable. Riders who do not pay attention to the path in front of them or become distracted run the risk of being taken off guard when something crosses their path. It is important for riders to keep their eyes on their path at all times so that they can be prepared for sudden changes in terrain.
Organization – A lot of organization is involved in spending a day mountain biking. Children could practice organization by making sure they have all the necessary safety items with them they will need throughout the day, taking responsibility for organizing their backpack by including water, snacks, first aid supplies, and a map of the trails. They should make sure they have everything packed neatly and in a way that will be convenient for them while biking. Being organized can assist in having a smooth mountain bike riding journey.
Self-Awareness – Self-awareness is very important in mountain biking, in that children need to be aware of their limits and ability levels. Choosing a trail that is too advanced for their skills could lead to difficulty and discouragement. It is important for riders to select trails they are able to do without getting hurt, but at the same time have challenges that keep it interesting.
Featured image: Flickr user Twentyfour Students