Friday, March 30, 2012

Watching a 7 Year Old Learn to Ride a Bike

When our little guy joined us a couple weeks ago, Shira made the executive decision: we're going to get this boy a bike and teach him to ride. It seemed like a smart move: bike riding is a fun outdoor activity, a good source of exercise, a confidence booster and a handy life long skill. So while I was still weighing the pros and cons, Shira just made it happen. We got the boy a bike (and from our bike shop down the street no less).

While all this sounded good in theory, we had the tiny detail of actually teaching a 7 year old how to ride a bike. Would this be hard? Would it be something that he got discouraged at and perhaps did more damage than good?

We did some research and decided we didn't want to go the training wheels route. Personally, I liked the REI method, where you take off the pedals and let the kid learn to coast, then go from there. Shira was going to have none of that.

Our first bike riding "lesson" was about 20 minutes of us pushing the little one on the bike, reminding him to pedal (we had our mantra: "ready, focus, peddle, peddle, peddle!!"). Apparently, the first lesson was needed to teach him that riding a bike is an active activity, if you don't peddle, you stop. Man, those training wheels looked good right about now!

Our second riding lesson showed some amazing progress. He got the peddling concept down, but we were still quite attached to him. By the third lesson, we'd gotten a tip from a neighbor: use the tennis or basketball courts as your training ground instead of a quiet street. Good call, as they are flat and car free. During the third lesson, I managed to capture a video of our little guy soloing for about 7 seconds.

By session four, he had mastered balance. He could now cruise down the courts at high speed with Shira running a few feet behind him (and I'm photographing this, of course) but didn't quite have stopping figured out.

And in yesterday's session, he got on, and with a small push from Shira, rode his bike down and carefully stopped. The rest of the session was spent with him cruising around, trying to get used to the idea of steering. See, here's a little proof:

To say Shira and I are impressed and proud is a massive understatement.

Which brings me to the title of this post. Notice I said "Watching ..." vs. "Teaching ... ." Shira and I didn't really "teach" him anything. In fact, our attempts to explain stopping ("You just peddle backwards. Huh?") were of little use. He just needed to get out there and do it. I had to have faith that his brain would figure it all out, and that he just needed the practice (and a safe environment to do it in).

This experience reminded me of when our last little guy was learning to walk. Thank heavens, I used to think, as a parent you're not actually expected to teach them how to do this. We'd totally muck it up. Better to let the brain figure it out for itself.

Who knows how long it will be before we're actually cruising along the WO&D trail. But for now, I consider this a huge accomplishment. It's just amazing what kids can do when we let then just do. (See, they've got no fear of failing.)

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