We took advantage of the clear skies today to enjoy a trip to the park. We used to come to this park a lot but for some reason I don’t think we’ve been since Babykins was born. Visiting today reminded me of how different things were when Son Number One was last here. He was still on his leukaemia treatment then. I felt that I had to keep my eye on him all the time because he was so apt to trip and stumble. Neither of us was particularly confident about his climbing, running or jumping. What a joy it is now to see him tackle the zip-wire with ease, to scale the heights of the climbing frames and to generally run around without a care in the world.
Being a parent is all about passing on skills for life. Most of the time we teach our children unconsciously by the things we say and do but there some things that you have to make an effort to teach.
Riding a bike is one of them.
There was a time when I thought we would never tick this off the parenting ‘to do’ list. Firstly, Son Number One was a late developer in terms of strength and co-ordination, mostly due to his leukaemia. By the time he was better able to pedal it was just too difficult for me to help him (or The Middle Miss, who was ready to learn at the same time) because Babykins was on the scene. And anyway, who really wants to run up and down the street holding onto a child trying to balance on a bike? It’s hard work.
We solved the learning to ride a bike conundrum in this small series of steps:
1. Take the pedals off the bike.
Any bike can become a balance bike if you remove the pedals. I don’t know where I heard this pearl of wisdom but I wish it had been before Christmas….Once the pedals are off the child is only learning one skill – balance. This takes the pressure off and makes things a lot easier. They can get to a reasonable speed and eventually simple balancing will lead to balancing and steering.
2. Go on Holiday to a quiet caravan/camping site with a small, grassy hill.
My children were at the ‘no pedals’ stage when we went away for a few days in the caravan. When we arrived at the site late on Saturday night the first thing they wanted to do was roll down the small hill next to our pitch (see picture below). The next thing they decided to do was to ride down it on their bikes. I was a bit nervous about this to start with in case they lost control. I quickly figured they were probably going to land on grass and it looked like a lot of fun. My only input was to suggest that for their first trip down the hill perhaps they shouldn’t start at the top. They spent the best part of the next day practising this skill in between other games. When we had to do errands around the site they pushed themselves along, gaining in speed and balance all the time.
3. Put the pedals back on the bike.
By Monday evening they were looking so confident that I thought it was time for the pedals to go back on the bikes. The Husband helped them with the initial few runs down the hill but in no time at all, two very happy children were pedalling independently up and down the gravelly campsite road. Job done.
4. Use your helmet at all times….
The children cracked cycling so I decided to take them for a little trip out after school. In my hurry to get away from our front door I didn’t enforce the use of the helmet. Oops. Poor old Son Number One had his first cycling injury – a good crack on the head and a bit of a black eye. Part of me remembered that ‘in my day’ none of us had helmets and we just had to get over bumps and bruises, but mostly I felt bad. It’s the old adage – “If you know better, you do better” and I really should have known better. Never mind, there was no lasting damage and a lesson was learnt.
So there you have it. How to teach a child to ride a bike.
Like most learned skills, when the time is right to learn, it’s not too much of a challenge and everyone has fun doing it. If it’s not enjoyable, no one is likely to get much out of the experience.
Finally, seeing my big boy riding his bike was a very emotional moment for me. As I mentioned, there was a time when I wondered if he would ever reach this milestone. I wanted to take the video of him cycling to the ward where he was treated and shout out to every doctor, nurse, play assistant, social worker, lab worker, pharmacist, cleaner, researcher and anyone else who helped him get past his leukaemia “Look at what you have done. Look at how important your work is. Look at how healthy my boy is now. THANK YOU.”
If you want to watch a little video of the boy riding his bike, click here