Thursday, July 1, 2010

How To Ride A Bicycle [I taught my niece how to ride a bike.]

Remember all those painful experiences of falling down? Believe it or not, we didn't actually have to go through all of that. I put a lot of thought into it, and I discovered a way for us to teach our kids to ride without falling.

In this entry, I'll share with you my teaching technique on how to ride a bike, without any special attachments, and without falling. The teaching method is so safe that your child could learn without a helmet. That being said, I still recommend that your child wear the helmet, because none of us know how careful your child will be.

After a lot of thought, I finally realized that we fall, because we are trying to pedal, without proper balance, and also when we don't have our feet near the ground when we are stopping. Both of these situations happen at the learning stage, because we don't typically know when to put our feet down.

Here are the technical details, in an instructional format.

Begin with these preparatory exercises. Even with slow children, you shouldn't need to do these for very long. The idea is to introduce the concepts to them, without telling them that you are. Just ask them often if they want to try the step that they are ready for [e.g. "Do you want to try raising your training wheels? It would be more like what grown ups would do."]
  1. Raise the training wheels. This goal is to get your child used to the idea that a bike doesn't automatically stay up.
  2. Tell your child to try to lean in a way that gets the bike leaning on the inside training wheel during a turn. Your child probably won't be able to do it, but at least get him to try. The goal is to get used to the idea of leaning.
  3. Tell your child to try to ride without letting the training wheels touch the ground. The goal is to practise as much balancing as possible, while it is safe.
  4. Tell your child to lean left and right while going straight. The goal is to get used to the idea of losing balance on both sides.
Continue with the 2 wheeled exercises.
  1. Remove the training wheels and the pedals, lower the seat, and then just tell the child to walk on flat ground while straddling the bike. This is basically what you would do, if you had no pedals. The goal is to practise keeping himself up when he doesn't have enough momentum.
  2. After your child becomes confident, tell your child to move forward on flat ground with only 1 foot as if he is hopping. Be sure that he practises with the other foot, also. The goal is to not alternate on both feet, as if he is walking.
  3. After your child becomes confident, tell your child to ride longer distances. Tell him to go straight and to go in circles. The goal is to get him to think less about his technique and more about going places.
  4. After your child becomes confident, tell your child to ride up and down gentle hills. The goal is to give the child just enough momentum to practise balancing, so that he won't have to rely on his feet to practise his balance.
  5. After your child becomes confident, replace the pedals, without training wheels, then practise rolling without pedaling. Do not raise the seat. The goal is to get used to the bike without the training wheels and with the pedals.
  6. After your child becomes confident, tell your child to gently press the brakes, and use his feet to hold him up, as he stops. The goal is to use the brakes to slow down, and to use them gently. 
  7. After your child becomes confident, tell your child to rotate 1 of the cranks at a point where it is already almost down, and then tell the child to push it down, but get ready to catch himself with that same foot. The goal is to get used to pushing the pedal only a little, without losing the balance of the bike.
At this point, if your child can get around without falling, and is able to stop at will, then your child will do fine. The strange thing is that pedaling is the last thing that your child needs to learn, but it is typically the first thing that he is taught. After the child can ride easily, without falling, then lift up the seat. If the seat is too low, it can actually make it harder to balance, and go fast.

Here are the experiences that we had.

At the beginning, I tried to get her to lean and balance, with the training wheels. She did okay. It wasn't what I'd call successful, but the important thing i that she got a feel for it. Also, she did try to balance a little. You could actually hear the difference of the training wheels just skimming the ground or the bike switching back and forth from left to right. She couldn't tell if she was leaning left or right, or if her wheels were touching, so every time she got it balanced, I would say, "Good!", and keep repeating it until she lost her balance. When she lost her balance, I'd say, "Okay.", a couple of times, and then keep quiet until she started balancing again.

I tried removing the training wheels when she was interested. This part went well. It took explaining for each step along the way, but she managed to get the hang of it, without repetition. The key was to give her easy tasks, and be an explainer when she needed it, and to be a cheer leader when she did the right thing.

1 thing to bear in mind is that we took the training wheels on and off about 3 times. It was not a case of instantly getting it right.

Because my niece didn't seem to show initiative, at first, I suggested that she try to "hop" on 1 foot, to move forward, while riding the bike. She would basically need to lift up the other foot, just a little. If she could "hop" on 1 foot and then the other, then this basically means that she could balance enough to not only rely on both feet.

Another interesting thing that I did was cheer her on as soon as she started going for longer distances with balance, and not using her feet to hold herself up; even if it was only for a few centimeters more. The idea was to provide meaningful feedback. Children will probably take longer rides naturally without their feet touching the ground, and without you telling them. You telling them when they do it right, is just to save time. You could tell when they do it right, because there will be a bit of glide. They will hold their feet up in a lazy way. In other words, they'll keep their feet up just a bit longer to save steps.

We are fortunate, in that there is a bit of a decline on the driveway. This is useful, so that she doesn't have to use her feet to gain momentum, which is important for her to not rely on her feet to balance. Also, the driveway is gentle enough, that if she walked down the driveway, while straddling the bike, then she would be in control, just as she would, if she walked down without the bike.

1 thing that surprised me was the curb being a tool, and not an obstacle. When she first started going too fast down the driveway, I was very nervous, and didn't even get a chance to warn her, but I noticed that up until that point, that was the longest that she had glided without stepping. I thought that this was weird, but she seemed to be in control, so I kept quiet. The lesson here to allow her to try very easy obstacles as long as she is going slow enough to stop herself.

Another thing that I tried to focus on was avoiding teaching her to be daring or to have courage. I tried to focus on her being like a grownup, and showing her how, and cheering on her successes. I don't believe in failure. I believe in succeeding in a gentle manner. It would be like 2 steps forward, 2 steps forward, 2 steps forward, with no steps back. 2 steps forward might seem like a lot less when other children are taking 3 steps forward, but once you factor in other kids taking 2 steps back, then you'll see that your kids will improve way faster.

I look forward to trying again with my nephew. I think that he'll learn faster, because he learned a bit from watching his sister. Even though I taught his sister very easily the first time through, it took me a lot of thought on what to do.

Her mom recorded the experience, which probably encouraged her. Her dad, my brother, will be excited, I'm sure.

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