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Putting the pedal to the ‘mental’

Riding a bike for the first time can be exciting and educational. For kindergarten students at Eastridge Community Elementary School, learning to ride a bike was made possible by an Educator Initiative Grant (EIG) from the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation.

“Many of our kindergarteners have never ridden a bike before,” Eastridge occupational therapist Anna Shaver said. “When we first got to the blacktop, all of our students were excited, but we knew that some would feel a little anxious.”

The EIG funded bicycles through All Kids Bike, a non-profit that connects schools with bicycles. The students start riding the bikes without pedals to learn balance and motor planning skills, then eventually graduate to adding pedals. Shaver partnered with Eastridge physical therapist Krista Welch and PE teacher Ryan Lopez to apply for the EIG. Welch, who works with students to support their physical needs, noted that success in riding a bike can look different for everyone.

“We have students with physical and emotional challenges, so getting on a bike the first time can be scary,” Welch said. “By giving them the opportunity and support while learning with their peers, kids get to practice facing fears, making mistakes and challenging themselves.”

The educators shared the story of a student with special needs who was struggling at first, but with the help of a paraprofessional, the student was able to walk with the bike and join classmates in celebrating their accomplishments.

“Success can look different for every kid,” Welch said. “Some kids were excited just to be able to walk the bikes with their feet. It might not matter that they could pedal yet, because they felt included and involved in riding a bike with their friends.”

The PE teacher, Lopez, shared that learning to take risks at any level is critical for students to develop self-confidence. After a week of practicing balance and learning how to put on helmets, students had gained new levels of confidence.

“Balancing on a bike teaches students how to check in with their body and learn balance,” Lopez said. “But they also have to take risks and try, which allows them to feel more confident trying something new the next day.”

The bikes will be part of Eastridge’s kindergarten physical education program next year, and the educators hope to partner with the fifth-grade STEM class to make guide signs for the riding paths next to the school. The hope is to see many more years of kindergarten students using these bikes to learn and grow.

“A bicycle is a way for kids to practice independence and movement,” said Shaver. “Our kids come from all over the country and world, and bicycles are found all over the world. They are seen as this traditional piece of being a kid, and we are so honored to share that experience with our students.”

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