Ride-on toys are popular gifts for kids and common in play centres and child care, but did you know they’re about so much more than just entertaining our children? From rocking horses and trikes to bikes and foot-powered cars, ride-on toys of all types are extremely important for kids’ gross-motor development, with each stage building on what’s been learned before to increase their balance, coordination and strength.
Here’s why ride-on toys are so important for your child’s development.
GROSS-MOTOR SKILLS EXPLAINED
First things first, let’s talk about gross-motor development and its importance to a child’s physical growth. Gross-motor skills are large-muscle body movements of the arms, legs and torso, which help us move, balance and play.
Kids are developing these skills right from birth, from tummy time as they learn to move their limbs and raise and control their head, to crawling, sitting, standing and walking. Muscle control and core strength are vital for letting kids explore their world, take risks, and gain confidence and independence. Encouraging an active lifestyle in littlies right from the beginning helps this development and shows them they are capable of anything. That’s where ride-on toys come in.
The first time we rode a bike without training wheels is a core memory that most adults have from childhood. That feeling of independence as we pedalled away sticks with us for all the right reasons. The building blocks for that moment start years before when we first learn to sit on a rocking horse, move a ride-on animal with our legs and control a balance bike. The confidence gained from each step in the process adds together to give children the capability, and most importantly, the self-belief needed to continue developing their gross-motor skills with more challenging activities.
HELPING WITH BALANCE
As the saying goes, “You have to learn to walk before you can fly”, and the same goes for balance. Balance requires core strength, and that’s not something we’re born with. Toys help young children learn stability and challenge them to engage their core muscles in a way that’s entertaining and fun. Learning to get on and off (or out of) their ride-on toy themselves also requires balance and is something kids will build up to the more comfortable they are using the toy. A great way to develop balance and the ability to get on and off a ride-on toy is to encourage them to propel it with one leg at a time.
Motorised ride-on toys are great for balance, but make sure you have some non-motorised toys, too. Pedalling, pushing and balancing all require a lot of strength – even gripping the handlebars of a ride-on toy is important for your child’s gross-motor development! The strength a child develops through these activities lays important foundations for other forms of play, like running, climbing and swinging on monkey bars.
Manoeuvring ride-on toys usually require the coordination of a child’s arms, legs and torso. The legs push, the core muscles hold them on the toy and the arms keep them steady and help to steer. Even pushing a ride-on toy (rather than riding on it) requires the coordination of these muscles. Rather than stepping in immediately to provide help, let your child experiment through trial and error and attempt to find a way to move their toy without assistance – when they do succeed they will feel a greater sense of accomplishment.
MORE HELPFUL TIPS FOR GROSS-MOTOR DEVELOPMENT
At what age should we try different types of ride-on toys?
Kids develop gross-motor skills at different ages so there’s no ‘right’ age to try different types of ride-on toys; this will vary vastly between children.
- As parents, we know our kids best so observe their play and you’ll pick up cues that they’re ready to try a new challenge.
- It’s important to step them up to a new activity when they’re showing signs of readiness, so they don’t get bored and miss new opportunities for development.
Make sure the scooter, bike or other toy is the right size for your child
Set your child up for success by ensuring the toy is appropriately sized. If they can’t reach the ground easily to propel themselves, or a toy is so small they feel cramped, your child will struggle to use the ride-on toy and this will dent their confidence.
- A child’s feet should be able to sit flat on the ground when using a balance bike.
- On a pedal bike, the knees should never go higher than the handlebars at the highest point of rotation.
Did you know there’s more to ride-on toys than just riding on them?
There are heaps of gross-motor promoting activities that children can do using ride-on toys, as well as the obvious! Some fun ideas include:
- Pushing a doll or favourite soft toy around on the ride-on toy.
- Painting a plastic car and then hosing it down.
- Completing an obstacle course (set up cones and have your child zig-zag around them).
Ride-on toys are a high-value addition to your backyard or playroom. They’re exciting and challenging and kids are innately drawn to playing on them. Plus, they help improve their coordination, balance and strength while having fun.