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Therapy Bikes: An Interview with Carly Messner, OTR/L

Carly Messner, Occupational TherapistEven on a cold, snowy day at the end of May, Carly Messner smiles wide, especially when she talks about her job as a Pediatric Occupational Therapist. She has worked in the field for ten years and still has a hard time explaining to others exactly what it is she does. “Occupational Therapy is super broad; that’s why I love it. It’s very holistic,” she says. “In short, Occupational Therapy is helping people reach their potential.”

Perhaps a child is struggling with making friends, unable to sit in the classroom and get their work done, or having trouble reaching a new milestone. Carly considers all aspects of that child’s wellness. “There are aspects of physical exercise, mental health, general health and wellness, and even socioeconomic factors that play into a child’s situation,” Messner explains. “I meet that child where they’re at, find out where they’re struggling, and help them achieve their goal.”

In college, Carly got into healthcare and worked as a Certified Nurse Aide in a nursing home.  A Physical Therapist would visit regularly, and she would watch how he worked with the clients. She could tell he loved his job, and the clients loved seeing him. Carly was inspired to enroll in physical therapy classes, and after a while, found that the work seemed very narrow for her broad interests. “I loved aspects of both nursing and physical therapy, but I had so many other interests like art and music,” she says.

That’s when someone suggested Occupational Therapy. “It’s a really cool helping profession because it can be used with so many modalities. There are amazing therapists who work very specifically with people from a medical model. Then, there’s someone like me who incorporates yoga, aromatherapy, and works closely with families,” Carly pauses, then adds, “I’ll never get bored in this field.”

Strider Baby BundleThese days, Carly has been integrating Strider Bikes and, for infants, Strider’s Baby Bundle into the wide range of toys and activities she uses in her work. Many of her clients are part of South Dakota’s Birth to Three Program who are experiencing delays in developmental milestones, such as learning to feed themselves. Many of these fundamental skills in children are dependent on their core strength and trunk stability. “The Strider Baby Bundle is really nice because you can start them as soon as six months, wherever they’re at, and get them comfortable with a familiar tool they will grow with,” Carly says.

Sessions with infants usually last about forty-five minutes. Carly sets up the Strider Baby Bundle and uses the stable base to work with the child on weight shifting and trunk control to get on the bike. Guardians are asked to get involved by sitting in front of their child, gently rocking the base, and making eye contact. When the rocking stops, the baby usually signals they want more, and Carly loves to see giggles and engagement between the two. “It’s a fun, easy, accessible thing for mom and baby to do,” Messner says, all while working towards their developmental goals.

Strider Baby BundleIn the last decade, core strength in children has been on the decline. Infants are spending more time in car seats and bouncers. Toddlers are spending more time on screens. Children are spending less time playing outside. Since core strength is a fundamental building block for higher-level skills, the effect of its decline has rippled through schools and can manifest as difficulty with handwriting, being fidgety in class, and poor coordination. Usually, these problems are not linked back to deficient core strength, so treatment is often ineffective. The key is early intervention. The Strider Baby Bundle helps Carly do this by putting infants in a functional position to build strength. Once they get onto the bike, babies then have to engage core strength to rock back and forth. Their hips, knees, and ankles are in a flex position which helps build the strength of stabilizer muscles. This strength helps infants sit up, which will contribute to their ability, eventually, to sit up for longer periods in grade school and are vital for daily living activities.

Strider Baby BundleStarting younger children on the Strider Baby Bundle has helped Carly transition kids to a 12” Strider Bike to continue working on balance, coordination, and core strength as they grow. One of the biggest benefits of using a Strider Balance Bike as a tool for developmental milestones, versus other toys and activities, is its inherent motivation for getting families outside together. When she shows up with a Strider Bike, kids are excited about getting out, and it usually draws families out to watch what their child is doing and accomplishing. To Carly, family engagement is vital to the success of children meeting their goals. She loves how Strider Bikes naturally do that without her having to push or convince them. “It doesn’t really matter the condition of the lawn or yard. Kids can ride in small spaces. We can get them out on a deck or even do it in an apartment. The kids have so much fun, and their caregivers are very proud,” Messner says.

Carly reflects on a particularly nice day she decided to bring the Strider Bike for a child she was working with. She pulled into the parking lot of the apartment complex where he lived and grabbed the Strider out of her trunk. There was immediate excitement! Several of the child’s family members lived in this complex, so he jumped on the Strider and visited each family member, one at a time. Coincidentally, the family was gathered together on the balcony to watch and wave. These are big and important moments. As Carly puts it, “it was so cool!”

Strider Baby BundleStrider Bikes were also instrumental when Carly worked in outpatient pediatric clinics. Many of her clients with autism or sensory issues had trouble transitioning from one thing to the next. Carly would make sure to give plenty of verbal cues and warnings when sessions were about to end, in hopes this would help with transitioning. It usually didn’t work. Her clients would have meltdowns, and it would be difficult to get them out of her office and into their car to go home.   

Carly decided to bring a Strider Bike and leave it by the door. Instead of making broad statements like, “it’s almost time to go home,” she would say, “it’s almost time to get on the bike.” The kids, then, began to look forward to getting on the bike and riding out the door. “That made all the difference in the world,” Messner stated.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Carly deals with a lot of meltdowns and witnesses a lot of struggles. She has hard days, but she loves her job. “My job is super rewarding. I don’t just feel good about it now and then, I consistently feel like I am making a difference,” she says, and laughs a little at how cheesy that may sound. Creating positive connections with parents and their children – getting to know their family, their struggles, and their achievements – is part of what gets Carly out of bed to keep making a positive impact.

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Why Biking is One of the Best Exercises for Your Child

Boy on red Strider Balance Bike and Boy on green Strider 14x SportLearning how to ride a bike is a skill that every child carries with them for the rest of their life. As a parent, it’s one of those milestones you want to capture and always remember. Obviously, we’re big fans of riding bikes because…it’s super fun and amazing! As adults, we know that biking is a great way to stay in shape and keep us physically active, but have you ever stopped to wonder just how important biking can be for your child?

Sometimes, we at Strider wonder if parents realize how exceptionally beneficial biking is for their child. Truth is, we see that development every day from Strider riders around the world. Get ready for a massive truth bomb, because we’re about to blow your mind.

Girl with sunglasses on pink Strider Balance BikeBiking plays an important role in the overall growth of your kiddo. From learning how to balance and becoming coordinated to gaining strength and decision-making skills, biking nurtures the overall development of your superstar tater tot. Sure, bike riding helps your child grow physically, but it also allows them to grow mentally and emotionally. Creating a safe atmosphere for them to learn how to ride is the most crucial part. Why? Because being safe allows them to gain confidence. That confidence propels them to want to learn more and, more importantly, ride more! With the proper protection and a learn-to-ride process that allows your child to explore while feeling safe, you’ll see your little nugget blossom into a biking pro right before your eyes.

It Starts with Safety, Which Breeds Confidence

Keeping your child safe is a number one priority. When your child feels safe, they have the courage and the confidence to want to learn how to ride. In addition to a helmet and knee and elbow pads, you need a bike that fits your child. The right fitting bike, and we can’t stress this enough, is going to make or break the learn-to-ride process. It’s the one thing that could either propel them into the riding stratosphere and leave a trail of dust behind them or delay the process for months, even years. Balance bikes give your child four points of contact with the ground – front wheel, back wheel, right leg, left leg. Totally super stable position, right? Yup. Our balance bikes have the lowest seat height available. This keeps your child low to the ground (where they feel safe), and they know that if they do fall, they’re still OK. Thumbs up!

Let’s Get the Obvious Stuff Out of the Way

Girl on black sport with pink wheelsGetting outdoors is great for everyone, especially children. Not only does it just feel good to be in natural sunlight, one of the best sources of Vitamin D out there! Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and growing kiddos. Plus, being outside gives them plenty of fresh air, which has multiple health benefits, as well as helping them get a good night’s sleep. The better sleep your child gets, the healthier they are and the more their body will be able to grow (also, the better sleep you, the parent, gets).

Biking also keeps your child fit by keeping them physically active. Their little body gets a solid workout when biking, which gives them a chance to burn off some of that extra energy they might have stored up (a kiddo bouncing off the walls with energy is no fun for anyone), which also builds up their muscles. When your child is biking and has learned how to ride a bike, they’ll be less likely to get bored at home, plant themselves on the couch and crave junk food.

Boy riding through puddle on yellow Strider Sport Balance BikeRiding their bike around gives children the chance to explore and become comfortable with their surroundings. Knowing their neighborhood and becoming familiar with the area helps them learn how to navigate areas and establish landmarks they should know. This is an extremely important part of brain development and will help them throughout life. Encourage them to spend time outdoors when the weather is nice and allow them to go off on their own from time to time when they’re ready.

Playing in the yard is fun, but it can get old fast. Riding a bike gives your kids a chance to go away from home occasionally and grow on all levels. Mentally, they are focusing on their surroundings, emotionally they are connecting with their body, and physically they are getting leaner and healthier with each trip out. Just make sure they’ve got the proper safety gear. That’s step one, always!

The Less Obvious, But Still Important

Boy giving rock-on sign on blue Strider 14x Sport

Biking isn’t just something that improves your child’s physical health, it also improves their mental and emotional health. Learning how to ride a bike and biking around the neighborhood increases your child’s confidence in a way that few other things can. Once they realize, “Oh hey, I can do this,” the world becomes their oyster. Riding a bike also helps children become more aware of their own body, which means they’re less intimidated by their surroundings and peers. The more biking your kiddo is able to do, the more comfortable they are in their neighborhood, and the more people your child will interact with around the block or in the neighborhood, which gives them confidence that lasts through adulthood.

We absolutely believe – with our heart of hearts – that biking is the best way to help your child develop physically. The mental and emotional benefits of biking will stay with your child throughout their life and help them develop into a successful grown up. If your little one is walking, they’re ready to start learning how to ride on one of our 12-inch bikes, like the Strider 12 Sport or Strider 12 Pro. If your little rock star has been walking for a while and is about 3 years old, we’d recommend the Strider 14x Sport. It’s a little bit bigger and meant to fit those kiddos who are growing like crazy. Plus, the Easy-Ride Pedal Conversion Kit makes transitioning from a balance bike to a pedal bike a breeze!

The physical, mental, and emotional benefits of teaching your child how to ride a bike are just too good to ignore. So, what are you waiting for?! Your child will thank you and be happier and healthier because of it.