Kids learn best when they can see and feel what they’re learning. Despite that, we often try to teach them with words and concepts with which they’re not familiar. Like telling your child to “keep your balance” when they haven’t yet learned what balance is, or how one keeps it.
Nevertheless, this is how our parent’s taught us, so we just keep doing it until eventually our child figures it out.
SO, ABOUT LEARNING TO RIDE BIKES…
I taught my kids to ride without training wheels in less than one hour. They weren’t prodigies, nor was I “Coach of the Year.” There were no scrapes or tears, nor fear or apprehension.
Needless to say, that’s a contrast to the experience of many parents who’ve struggled and become frustrated and exhausted, while their child cried, and begged to get the training wheels bolted back on.
The difference between these two outcomes, was simply to teach them to ride in a way that is pretty much the opposite of most people try.
FIRST, HERE’S HOW NOT TO DO IT.
The classic approach to training kids to ride on two wheels is to unbolt the training wheels, put them on the seat, and run along side, while they pedal up the road or sidewalk hopefully in a straight line.
The critical failure, is that this puts the child and bike in a situation that is inherently not stable, and which actually teaches them little.
Your child is riding upright (as long as you continue holding onto them), but being upright with someone holding onto you, simulates a situation we don’t actually experience while riding a bike.
In fact, as we ride, we’re not really ever “in balance” — at least not perfectly. We’re actually either leaning (falling, but slowly) to one side or the other. Learning to ride, means learning to correct for this. This involves shifting our weight in the opposite direction. As we get to be better riders, we learn to do this with much more subtle shifts, until it appears we’re sitting upright, and always “in balance.”
Simply stated, the conventional approach fails to teach our kids how to respond to balance. After all, they’re sitting as perfectly upright as possible right up until we let go of them. Then just as soon as the child leans or steers slightly, they fall, get wrapped up in the bike, and gain their first taste of the pavement. So e dry their tears, patch their scrapes, put them back on the bike, and repeat the process, over and over, hoping they’ll eventually they “get it.”
The only thing this conventional process achieves effectively, is tiring out the parent, and teaching a child how to crash, probably on unforgiving concrete or asphalt pavement.
Let’s try a more logical approach. We’ll break this into four quick and easy steps, and call it –
“WHAT TO DO”
Step 1 — up to 10 minutes
With each of my kids, I took them into the garage or driveway – a relatively flat space with no obstacles – put them on the bike and held them up, one hand on their seat and one hand on the handlebars, then told them only to pedal, as I steered them in small circles. Their job was to get acquainted with how it felt to pedal, move the handlebars, and feel how their body moved the bike as we went around and around.
After a few minutes, and I mean like two or three, I asked them to use the brake to stop the bike, then we turned around and made circles in the opposite direction. After a few minutes, we switched back again.
That driveway exercise totaled maybe ten minutes, and nobody fell off their bike or got hurt, or cried. Rather, they thought it was fun to ride in circles, feeling the sensation of speed but with the safety of dad holding on. In reality, as the minutes went on, I played less and less of a role in holding them up and influencing their balance — because their bodies quickly learned what they needed to do to keep balance. My hands became only a safety blanket, holding them and the bike firmly when they got squirrely.
The key to this step, is that the child is learning how to ride the bike when they are not perfectly upright, but are actually leaning to one side. Then they learn the same thing when leaning to the other side.
The beauty is that they don’t need to do it very long before the body “gets it.” Like I said, one to two minutes going each direction, then switch. Do each side twice, and they’ll quickly have the tools they need.
Since the circular path they rode was maybe 15 feet in diameter, I could stay with them at a walking pace and therefore hadn’t worked up a sweat, so dad and child were both relaxed and doing fine.
Step 2 — takes 10 minutes
Walk or drive to some place with a flat field of grass. Best choice, a school or park with a baseball or football field not in use.
Step 3 — takes 10 minutes
Spend just a minute or two doing a couple warmup circles in both directions, just as you did at home.
Next, line the child and bike up and tell them you’re going to ride in a straight line for a bit.
Now do the parent-running-beside-the-child routine, with your child riding through the grass in a straight line from one end of the field to the other. Tell them just to pedal and steer, and you’ll hold them up. In fact, you won’t need to do this very much. You’re just the “parachute” in the event things go wrong. Let them pedal and wobble. You’ll notice they already seem to be self-correcting when the bike sways one way or the other. This became natural to them in Step 1.
After the first pass up the field, turn them around and do it again, but as they ride, run BEHIND them with a hand on the shoulder so they know you’re there, but DO NOT try to hold them up. They won’t need it.
** note: pass up the temptation to do this exercise on the dirt infield or a running track. Yes, it would make their pedaling easier, but also their “landings” harder, and fear of getting back on greater.
About halfway across the field, stop running, and watch them go. When they get to the other side, yell for them to hit the brakes before the hit the fence.
Step 4 — takes 10 minutes
Do this a few more times, launching them off and then letting them go. You can walk across the field and meet them on the other side. Then as they get better, encourage them to try to ride a big loop all the way back to you.
If they fall once or twice while they’re out on their own, the soft grass and dirt will make it no problem.
At this point, they’re feeling great and excited — so stop while you’re ahead. Go get a soft drink or something to celebrate.
You can do it. Hope this helps.