Activities

Toddler wheels

Always be within arm's reach of beginning riders

At two, my grandson Xavier loves his PlasmaCar — and knows exactly what to do with it.

He rides on down the sidewalk, stops at the mailbox, and calls out his order for Timbits and a coffee. Then he scoots on down to the next lamppost, picks up his imaginary treats, and swings back to his own driveway.

Of course, wheels represent more than just a way to get treats — toddlers are also impressed by the ability to move faster than their sometimes unsteady legs can carry them.

Pam Mitchel says she had a tricycle for oldest daughter Emma before she hit her first birthday. “My mother bought it for her, and it had a handle on the back, for me to push, and a little seat belt. She didn’t have to pedal and I could push her around the block.”

“There’s a big difference between a one-year-old and a two-year-old,” points out Valerie Lee, executive director of the Infant and Toddler Safety Asso-ciation. “One-year-olds can’t really pedal, so they’re usually on ride-on toys that they straddle and push along with their feet. At two, though, some can really get moving on a tricycle.”

At that time, Mitchel didn’t put a helmet on Emma because Mitchel felt in control of the trike’s speed and balance. Even so, a helmet can provide some protection if the child falls. Mitchel changed her approach when Emma was two. “When she started to do some pedalling on her own, I put a helmet on her. The girls next door that she played with wore helmets on their trikes, so she was happy to do it.” When her second daughter, Cori, hit the tricycle stage, it was easy to convince her to follow Emma’s example.

Safety tips

To keep these little riders safe:

• Ensure your child always wears a helmet

• Stay within reach, says Denyse Boxell, program leader at Safe Kids Canada. You should be able to grab your child right away if she starts to topple over or swerve toward the road.

• Have one-to-one supervision. Lee says a risky situation is when parents are talking together while their children ride tricycles nearby in a driveway or on a sidewalk. It takes only a second’s distraction for an injury to happen, and toddlers can’t be expected to always remember rules like “Don’t go on the road.”

• Be sure the vehicle fits your child. “She should be able to put both feet flat on the ground with her bottom on the seat,” Lee explains.

• With a tricycle, teach your child how to get on and off safely, and to keep his feet away from the spokes. • Seek out a smooth surface for your young rider. Since his balance is still uncertain, an unexpected bump or small pothole can topple a tricycle, says Lee.

• If the vehicle has a basket or step on the back, keep them empty. “Kids want to stuff all their favourite toys in the basket and ride off,” says Lee. “But that can unbalance the trike enough that it tips over.” An older child standing on the back can also cause a fall — the step is really there to help the rider get on, not to carry an extra passenger.

Toddler helmets

Denyse Boxell, program leader at Safe Kids Canada, says getting a well-fitted helmet is important because toddlers often take tumbles from their pint-sized vehicles. And if your toddler rides over to the playground with you, remember that the helmet should come off before he runs off to play, says Valerie Lee, executive director of the Infant and Toddler Safety Association. “Helmets can become a safety hazard if he’s climbing on play equipment or running around with friends,” she says.

Ride-on toys

Straddle toys The design may be a horse, bike or even a tractor, but these toys don’t have pedals and usually don’t have a steering mechanism either. The toddler just sits on the seat and pushes himself along with his feet.

Pushable trikes These small tricycles have detachable long handles on the back so an adult can easily push the child along. They usually also have pedals so as your toddler gets bigger, she can provide her own locomotion.

Pedal cars Remember Fred Flintstone’s car? These are a more advanced version: The child sits inside the car and pushes the pedals with his feet to make it go.

Toddler trikes Sized for two-year-olds and up, these require pedalling and steering abilities.

PlasmaCars These unusual-looking vehicles don’t require pedalling — the child turns the steering wheel from side to side to get it going. Even adults can have fun on them (they support weights up to 220 pounds).

Toddler scooters Scaled-down three-wheeled scooters require coordination skills that may be beyond some little ones because they need to be able to balance on one foot while pushing with the other. Knee and elbow pads will help buffer any falls.