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Before They Get on Bikes, Here’s How Independent Dutch Kids Zoom Around Town

Dutch parents’ secret weapon for raising a brave little kind: a scooter, no helmet.

Kids moving quickly without any trace of whining on three wheeled scooters.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Elizabeth Newcamp.

I was standing in the center of some random town in the Netherlands, my 3-year-old lying down on the ground in silent protest. Clearly the 10 feet I asked him to walk were the final straw. While I stood defeated on the cobblestoned street, a harmonious Dutch family zoomed happily by. Their 3-year-old propelled himself forward on a zippy little three-wheeled scooter.
Genius!

You know all about the Dutch love of cycling. But when we moved to the Netherlands, we were surprised to find that before Dutch kids ride those bikes around town on family trips, Dutch parents love to put their kids on scooters.

Dutch parenting is about worrying less and giving kids the chance to explore. Getting kids out of the stroller gives them freedom and choice. The scooter, quite aptly known in Dutch as step, is a steppingstone on the road to freewheeling. So, when it’s time to pack their bags and hit the road for a trip, the Dutch take along this essential set of wheels (together with their relaxed parenting).

So we gave it a try. Trial and error (or should that be trial and terror?) taught us that the more stable three-wheeled variety is the scooter to invest in: fewer bumps, Band-Aids, and antibiotic cream. Our favorite ended up being the Micro Mobility, made by a Swiss company, which is easy and fun to ride—plus it packs flat, fitting in the back of the car or even in a plane’s overhead bin.

Micro Mobility Micro Mini Deluxe Scooter (Ages 2–5)

$89.99, Amazon

Micro Mobility Micro Mini Deluxe Scooter

On their scooters, my kids move swiftly through cities and airports. My 6-year-old is always in the lead, racing ahead, although the siren sound effects of my scooting 3-year-old will probably hit you first. Meanwhile, my youngest is just getting the hang of things as a daredevil back seater on his eldest brother’s scooter. For a simple scoot around the city, Dutch kids don’t wear helmets, so ours don’t either. (I reserve the right to strap them on if we’re on a mountainside or something.) The beauty of scooting is that legs never seem to tire. Dutch laissez-faire parenting has not always come naturally, but these scooters, which allow the whole family to complete walking tours you would never have thought possible with young children, definitely help.

I’ve mastered a few little tricks along the way. I use color codes—I call out a color and the kids know the plan. Give me a whistle and we are basically the Von Trapps.

Green: The kids are allowed to scoot freely. This is mainly for parks, zoos, open spaces, and airports. The wild west of public spaces.

Blue: The kids need to stay closer to me. I like them to hold a strap from my backpack, purse, or baby carrier, allowing my hands to stay free. Their speed should match my speed. This is perfect for busier sidewalks, public gardens, malls, and streets.

Yellow: An adult takes control of the scooter. In really crowded places or after a long scoot, I raise the handlebar to its highest setting and pull the scooter, while the kids ride with both legs on the board. This does not work if they are also eating ice cream.

Red: Ditch the scooter and run! Just kidding. I’ve never used this one.

When we’re on the road, the boys’ scooters make light of diversions, delays, and downpours. A flight delay in Amsterdam was a great excuse for scooter races in an empty hallway. A hotel check-in that took forever was easily managed with some scooter time, practicing sharp turns around the grand pillars of the empty lobby. Walking tours are now a kid-requested part of our itinerary, rather than a (sometimes literal) drag.

I get plenty of funny looks as my kids go whizzing by. (It’s true that Dutch kids are considered by other Europeans—especially the French—a little rambunctious and uncontrollable.) Most people end up laughing; kid fun is contagious. Then there are the families who didn’t bring along their scooters. The ones with the kids on the pavement because they don’t want to walk anymore. These people either throw us looks of bitter jealousy or sheer awe. Dank je wel, Dutch scooter parenting!

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