Thursday, June 4, 2009

Little Monkey See, Little Monkey Do

I think many of us fall into a trap when teaching our kids to ride. We naturally "protect", rather than teach by example, our children. I have been introducing my kids, who are 7 and 10, to road riding on relatively quiet streets for a while. Last weekend, however, I thought I should walk my talk and try them on some busier (although of course not crazy) roads.

My kids were invigorated and excited by the experience. In short, I think it made them feel powerful. Empowerment is at the heart of successful road riding. You have to ditch your preconceived notions about your inferior position on the road, and stake a claim to your safety. For grownups, this is often very difficult. It is even harder when you know it's not just you, it's your most cherished people. Rationally, I know my kids will be more safe riding on the street as they grow up. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to stay rational when it comes to your children. I myself still don't assert my road rights as well as I should, although I think I do pretty well. I often see parents riding with their kids on the sidewalk, or having the kids ride on the sidewalk while they ride on the street. I have been learning as I go with this... my kids rode on the sidewalk too until I was sure they had sufficient control of their bikes to hold a nice steady line and work their brakes well.

I took one other leap last weekend; I rode at the front. In the past, I would tail the children, riding further into the lane than they did to make sure cars gave them a wide berth. As we set out on busier roads, however, it dawned on me that if they were to assume the correct lane position, in order to make a left turn or in approaching a 4-way stop, the single easiest way to show them where to be was to say, "ride where I ride". No shouted instructions, no complex concepts. Just "ride where I ride". Sometimes, as we approached a new road situation, I would pull our little group over and explain how the moves ahead were going to happen, and what to do if the situation changed between when I got there and when they did. It scared the hell out of me, and made them just mildly nervous and excited. It worked. I plan to do more of this sort of thing as the summer progresses; I hope my heart can take it, because I am more convinced than ever of its value to their enjoyment of bikes and their overall safety.

Being in front of the children demonstrated to them all kinds of things that would have taken years to convey by talking at them, and the more I do it, the more they will see safe behaviours as normal riding.

Like I said, I'm making this stuff up as I go. If you have good ideas or specialized knowledge of teaching road cycling to children, I would welcome your comments even more than I usually do.

Lead By Example,



ChipSeal said...

When I was in my youth, the bicycle expanded my horizons.

What a wonderful gift to give to your children.

Let's hope we adults can preserve their freedom of access to the public byways.

ChipSeal said...

Chastise lightly and watch out for their good decisions and praise those lavishly.

Teach them to take joy in the journey!

cafiend said...

Why do I think of ducklings?

My brother in law went through this process with his son a couple of years ago. When the lad visited us later in the summer I was probably more nervous than he was.

In the 1960s kids just rode where they needed to go. I don't rememebr thinking about it much. Someone told me to ride on the sidewalk, but when I tried it it just felt wrong, so I went back to the street. Flowing like a vehicle made the most sense.

You're doing a great job! Hope the kidlings keep it up throughout long and happy cycling lives.

RANTWICK said...

Chipseal and Cafiend - thanks for the encouragement. Cafiend, my childhood bike riding was very similar... we just rode on the street and didn't think anything of it. I think one development that has had a detrimental effect on the number of cyclists (young or old) being on the road comes from something that is good for other reasons: curbcuts. Sidewalk riding used to be much more difficult because of the need to ride off of or up and over steep curbs. The good accessibility measures meant for wheelchairs, walkers, strollers etc have made sidewalk riding a more viable (if inadvisable) option for cyclists.

Keri said...

Bravo Man!

There's no substitute for experiential learning.

You described stopping and discussing situations before riding through them. An analogous situation would be the way a whitewater kayak instructor teaches students to read rapids and eddies. Stop, survey, discuss, do, debrief.

Mighk and I did this for the first time a couple months ago with a group of teens. Kids don't abstract well. You can't explain stuff in a classroom or a parking lot and have them translate it to the road. But teaching it on the road worked great! It was fun for them and they learned a lot.

I don't have kids of my own. I can't imagine how tough it would be to fight all the fear associated with teaching them to ride in traffic. However, I did teach my mother to ride and that was an emotional challenge in itself. It's quite horrifying to see Mom fall off a bike and scrap her knee!

Anyway, thanks for this... the post made me smile!

RANTWICK said...

Thanks Keri... you are dead right in saying that abstract or spoken intstruction just doesn't seem to go in. Also, I don't think I could possibly teach my mother, so Bravo right back atcha.

Steve A said...

Thanks for the post. Best thing I've read lately...

RANTWICK said...

SteveA - Thanks very much for visiting! I've seen your comments and posts on some other sites, so I take that as pretty high praise.

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