RIDING TOYS ARE TRADITIONALLY PART OF EVERY early childhood program. Young children can develop a wide variety of skills and get numerous health benefits from riding toys if we are careful and thoughtful in setting up the riding-toy area.

Designing Your Area

Because of the vigorous, rapid movement that accompanies riding-toy play, it is important to have an area designed specifically for that type of activity. Large, flat asphalt or concrete areas can be dangerous, even if they have a marked-off track. Young ones tend to ignore the lines and so might collide with others and get hurt. You should also avoid having a large track that loops around the entire play area, as such tracks are difficult to supervise and encourage racing. Also keep in mind that walking paths don't translate well into riding-toy tracks, as there's bound to be a conflict over use. But even if your riding area is an open, plain stretch of flat asphalt, you can still make it work!

First, avoid having too many riding toys in the area. (Assuming your track is large enough, aim for one-fourth to one-third of your class to be on the riding toys at any one time.) second, remove all other toys from the area. (Trying to have children on riding toys while other children are playing in the vicinity is a recipe for disaster.) Third, mark a course with something other than a paint line. Try connecting a few garden hoses together to form a visible perimeter along the riding-toy course. Fourth, use boxes, low tables, or similar items as props to stimulate dramatic play. Fifth, create "speed bumps" by stretching short lengths of garden hose across the track and pinning them to a board anchored to the track with a long spike.

Pretend with a Friend

For preschoolers, add toys that can support cooperative dramatic play, such as two-seaters or wagons children can give friends a ride in. Hand-powered toys will build arm and upper-body strength as well as cardiovascular fitness.

Kindergartners Scoot Away

Supply old mittens or child-size gardening gloves to help reduce the number of injured fingers when children use scooter boards (toys on which young ones sit or lie and propel themselves by pushing along with their hands). Push scooters and stand-up riders also help children develop coordination, leg and arm strength, and balance. You may want to get a few of the very popular "off-road" trikes, which have large knobby tires. Make the riding-toy area a key feature when planning your outdoor-play program. By adding props, you can turn a lemon of a riding-toy area into lemonade!

Wheeling Around

Children who use wheelchairs or walkers are already using wheel-equipped items. Playing in the riding-toy area provides these children with the perfect opportunity to fit right in! Create challenges for these children by setting up slalom courses using cones or boxes. Along with pretend-play props, provide tables under which children can ease their chairs to "tend store" or "pump gas."