Whether they are called strider bikes, balance bikes, push bikes, or running bikes, they all refer to kids bicycles that don’t have pedals. These have been popular in Europe for a long time, but they are becoming more common in the US lately.
My daughter’s present for her third birthday was a Kinderbike Mini Laufrad balance bike. She loved it right away, and I think she we could even have gotten it earlier – like when she was 2.5. She had a lot of fun with it, and it really helped her get the feel for balancing on a moving bicycle. While she was trying to learn to ride without training wheels, she would switch back and forth between the balance bike and her pedal bike.
I liked the Mini Laufrad because it’s very lightweight and makes it easy for the kids to handle. It also fits shorter kids, but they may outgrow it before they are quite ready for a bike with training wheels or a pedal bike. In my case, I bought a longer adult-sized seat-post (the M-Wave Seat Post, 27.2mm) and used a hacksaw to cut it shorter so that it wouldn’t hit the ground. This might not be a problem with the non-Mini Laufrad
There are some balance bikes made out of wood, but I don’t recommend them because they are not as durable, and somewhat heavier. I’ve seen more than one of them broken at the connection between the handlebar and the downtube. There is a nice review of some of balance bikes in the New York Times that was published in 2009.
It can be hard to find a bicycle helmet that fits well and is comfortable for small children, especially for riding in a trailer when they are 1 – 2 years of age. Shown below are the two models that we have used.
Many people seem to have strong opinions as to the minimum age for having a child ride in a trailer. Without passing judgement on anyone else (and following our pediatrician’s advice), we started when they turned 1 year old. Probably more important than the calendar age of the child is how well they can keep their head stable over some bumps. Use your best judgement as it applies to your child. At this age, the length of your rides is going to be limited by how long your kid enjoys it. For us, this worked out to about 45 minutes in length, with breaks every 20 minutes to 30-minutes to stop at a park or store for some running around.
The Trek Little Dipper Helmet.
This was the best-fitting helmet we found for children when they were smaller. This one is primarily sold through local bike shops.
One of the best things about being a parent is sharing the joy of a hobby or activity that you love with your kids. In my family, we enjoy cycling together, and having our kids ride with us has only made it more fun. In this series of posts, we’ll describe how we gradually went from having the kids in a bicycle trailer to riding a strider bike, then to riding on a trailer bike, and finally to riding on their own bike.
Riding in a bike trailer is the first step. We started off with a Chariot Cougar 1, and then when we had our second child, we moved up to the Chariot Cougar 2. The Chariot series of trailers are very well made, and I really appreciate how they attach to the bicycle. The ball-joint hitch makes it really easy to connect and disconnect. Chariot makes a bunch of models in its “sport series” – the Cheetah is the basic one, the Cougar adds a suspension, and the highest-end CX series adds drum brakes. I think the suspension is worthwhile because we often ride on dedicated bike paths, and every now and then we’ll encounter a section of unpaved gravel or dirt trail. With the Chariot you need to purchase the bike trailer attachment separately. They also have a ton of other attachments – jogging, stroller, XC ski.
The Burley makes a couple of nice models as well, including the D’lite and the Bee. I like the D’lite because of the suspension.
Kids these days have so many toys! When I give a child a gift, I want it to be something that the child and their parents appreciate. I try to think of something fun, but also a little off-the-beaten path and with educational value. I try to avoid toys from Toys R Us or Target, since those are easier to find and they might have it already. Here is my list of gift ideas that I use when my daughter is going to a birthday party. This is my list for 1 year olds, I’ll post more ages in future posts.
1 Year Old Birthday Gifts
Shades of People
Kids love looking at all the faces of children in this book. The photographs are beautiful and engaging with simple text about the different shades that people come in.
Good Night, Gorilla
The illustrations of this book are playful and colorful. There’s very little text, but the pictures tell the story on their own. Both of my kids loved the page where the zookeeper’s wife discovers the gorilla in her bedroom. When they first started to look through books on their own, they would always stop on this page and look around with cute expressions of surprise! Get the board book version for 18 months and younger.
Zoo Mix ‘N Match Peg Puzzle By Melissa & Doug
These puzzles are cute since the pieces can fit in multiple positions. This makes it easier for little ones to feel success, but also allows them some creativity and opportunity to experiment. Melissa & Doug makes several different versions of these puzzles.
Kidoozie Press N Go Inchworm
I like this toy since it doesn’t need batteries. The child presses down on it, and it moves which encourages crawling. Crawling is good for their muscle development even if they are already walking.
Add a comment to share your favorite gift ideas. I would love to have more ideas to choose from!
Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) by Lenore Skenazy, published in 2009 There are times when I feel like a terrible parent and ridden by guilt for doing things like letting my kids run ahead of me at the store or play out in the backyard while I stay inside the house. There are other times I feel suffocated by the fear that something horrible like kidnapping will happen to my kids. So I was thrilled when I had the chance to read Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry). I started reading with the hope that I would be able to relax as a parent and that I would be able to find guidance about what was reasonably safe to allow my kids to do and what really was inappropriate.
Overall, I was satisfied with the book. I was actually surprised to see the book was filled with stats alongside the expected anecdotes of kids running free and stories of kids virtually imprisoned in their homes. The stats help me process whether I am endangering my children when I contemplate allowing them to walk to school on their own. They will also help me hold my ground when I feel I need to justify myself to another parent. The book even talks about this issue specifically, that there’s sort of a parent peer pressure/competition to be the safest parent ever. Our culture translates “safest” parent into “best” parent.
Skenazy uses stats to point out that “children today are statistically as safe from violent crime as we parents were, growing up in the seventies, eighties, and nineties.” She says that, “when parents say, ‘I’d love to let my kids have the same kind of childhood I had, but times have changed,’ they’re not making a rational argument.” I was surprised to read this, because it means that kids are just as safe now as they were when I was growing up. However, times really have changed, it’s just that the change is in the parents. Parents today don’t want to take any risks.
My favorite part of the book comes at the end in the chapter titled “Strangers with Candy.” She puts into perspective a parent’s greatest fear of child abduction. She knows that parents aren’t really relieved when told that statistically child abductions have gone down, because what if that one in 1.5 million is your kid? But she says that “a child is forty times more likely to die as a passenger in a car crash than to be kidnapped or murdered by a stranger,” “ten times that number are killed by fires at home,” and “almost twenty times more likely to drown than to be kidnapped or murdered.” However, we can’t stop our children from getting in cars, staying at home, or going swimming (well, maybe they can avoid swimming, but you get the idea), since living life means that you have to take some risks. And trying to prevent them from practicing their independence while they’re young by doing things like playing outside and walking to nearby places means that they are missing out on valuable experiences and life lessons in the name of safety.
Skenazy’s writing style can be grating at times with it’s over the top jokiness and combativeness, and I even found some parts of the book to be offensive. The “Avoid Experts” chapter assumes that all her readers do not know how to check their sources and says that all “experts” should be avoided. Instead she says that we should just talk with other parents for advice. I found this offensive for three reasons. One, I can evaluate an expert’s credibility on my own. Two, as the book’s author she appears to be an “expert” saying that all other experts are wrong. And three, she quotes experts in her book all over the place, and she even says at one point that she knows that she told us to ignore all experts, but this one really knows what he’s talking about. This is just nonsensical. Perhaps the books that she read weren’t right for her kids or said things that her own parents had already taught her, but everyone grows up differently and a good “expert” can help even things out. The book “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk” will always have a place in my mind as the book that helped me really get through to my three year old when asking advice from parents, from teachers and going to talks didn’t help. The “Avoid Experts” chapter was early in the book, but it was the worst and most of the book was fine.
Overall, this is a good book and I’m glad that I read it, but there are definitely parts of it that should be ignored. I do feel more relaxed as a parent now, and I feel safer in my mind. I just need to take reasonable precautions like locking the door at night, but otherwise my main tool in keeping my kids safe is to teach them how to take care of themselves. Skenazy lists ASSERT Super Kids as a group that teaches safety skills to kids, and a group local to me is Kidpower. They say that kids need to know not to go off with strangers, know how to say or yell no to others, and fight back or run away when they need to. That’s like teaching a kid to fish instead of giving him one.
For about 4 years, I subscribed to DISH Network. I subscribed to the bare minimum package that gave me the local sports channels (e.g. Comcast Sports Network). This was primarily so I could watch Cal football games (Go Bears!), however I recently decided to cancel my subscription because it cost almost $60 a month, and it turns out that my family doesn’t really watch TV that much. We had put the service on DISH Pause for 6 months where they just charge you for the DVR rental fee of $5 (still a ripoff), and during those 6 months we never even managed to finish watching the movies we had recorded during one of the free Starz weeks. The lack of a good Cal quarterback prospect also diminished my appetite for watching Cal games.
The one thing we did like about having DISH was just that we had a DVR. We still wanted to record kids shows from KQED, the local PBS station, and recording some TV shows, movies, or NFL games from the broadcast networks would be a plus also. Sure, a TiVo DVR would be nice, but then you still have to pay a monthly fee. So, the challenge was to get a DVR setup that could record from the local broadcast networks without having to pay any monthly fees.
My solution was to setup a home-theater PC with Windows 7, and use its Windows Media Center as a DVR to record over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts from local stations. Here’s how I did it:
Many people aren’t aware that local broadcast stations have over-the-air (OTA) HD signals that a tuner can pick up. If you have good reception, then you can get an HD quality signal comparable to HD service from DISH or DIRECTV. From my house in the SF Bay Area, I manage to pick up clear signals from the local ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, and PBS stations (KGO, KNTV, KTVU, KPIX, and KQED). Having the amplified antenna made a big difference. Without the amplifier, my signal quality dropped a lot and I can’t get FOX or CBS.
This converts the antenna signal to something with which your PC will know what to do. I liked the HD Homerun because it connects to the antenna and then to a router Ethernet port. Connect your PC to the same router (either wirelessly or wired), and your PC will find the tuners so that Windows Media Center can record shows from the OTA broadcasts. Having the signal sent through the wireless router makes it so you don’t need the antenna and the PC in the same room (unlike some tuners which require USB connections to the PC).
Technically, you could buy pretty much any PC that runs Windows 7, but there is something to be said (and in my case, it will primarily be said by my wife) to having the PC look nice when it’s in the living room. The Zotacs are built a lot like laptops, but in a living room friendly form factor. They’re pretty quiet too.
Since I got the barebones system (no memory, no hard drive), I had to purchase those separately. My advice would be to max out both. The most annoying thing in the world is a DVR that runs slowly due to lack of memory or which runs out of hard drive space.
The Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate all include Windows Media Center, so any version except for the Starter is ok. After the installation completes, you will have to do some setup the first time you run Windows Media Center. This will involve configuring it to find the HDHomerun tuner, scanning the airwaves for the local channels, and configuring the TV schedule to show the channels you’re interested in. All of these steps are described in the HDHomerun documentation.
[ UPDATE Feb. 2014– I’ve gotten a few questions about whether or not you should use Windows 8 for your home DVR instead. From what I’ve heard, you’re better off sticking with Windows 7. Apparently Windows Media Center with Windows 8 doesn’t offer any improvements, and Windows 7 in my mind will have less hardware and software compatibility issues with other items you may be using. Read more: Is it worth upgrading a media centre to Windows 8? ]
I pretty much bought everything off of Amazon. The no shipping and no California sales tax (btw Amazon starts charging sales tax in CA in Sept. 2012) made stuff cheaper there than anywhere else.
There obviously are other alternatives – such as the open-source MythTV, and Google or Apple could always come out with something that sweeps the world, but my setup has no monthly fees and is relatively straightforward for those who are ok with installing Windows 7. Plus, I still have the ability to skip commercials during my favorite network TV shows. And now I can stream YouTube videos, surf the web, and do email from my TV, none of which I could do with my old DISH Network DVR.