Teaching My Son How to Ride a Bike
A Lesson in Pedal-gogy
Today my son, Isaac, age 4 and a bit, learned to ride a bike without training wheels. This is a rite of passage for any child, but as he is the youngest member of a somewhat bicycle-obsessed family, the accomplishment warranted many high-fives, a iPhone video (see below), proud emails to the grandparents and a celebratory bowl of ice cream.
As the title of this website suggests, I'm really keen on cycling. Bicycles are my primary mode of transport, exercise, and stress-relief, and our motley assortment of bikes gets our family of four everywhere we need to go -- at least until the snow flies.
I'm also curious about how to help people learn. In my work, I've created many learning designs to help people master long, complicated planning processes (e.g. Results-Based Management, Dialogue Education, The Natural Step). Usually, I start by explaining the underlying theory in plain language and metaphors, and then help the learners complete a series of logically-sequenced, hands-on learning tasks that divide the process into manageable chunks. For most of my learners, this method of instruction combining theory-practice-reflection works well.
But I'm not sure I can teach someone to ride a bike this way. For starters, I don't really understand the physics of how a bicycle works; and even after 35 years of riding, the best instructions I can provide are "Sit on the seat, pedal, don't look backwards, steer the handlebars towards the side that you're falling.....Don't look backwards! Watch-out!...." Bam!
(To be fair, it probably didn't help that my first introduction to two-wheeling was not exactly a model of solid pedagogy: I was 7. My Dad took me and my red coaster bike to the top of a GINORMOUS hill and pushed...The only instruction he gave was "Pedal!". The terror turned to elation once I realized that I was still alive and moving under my own steam... I've been riding ever since.)
Tonight was Isaac's turn. Trish ran holding on to his bike seat to get him started, and just let go when he had built up enough momentum....then Isaac just "got it" and took off down the street with a big smile on his face. An epiphany of sorts. That much-sought-after "a-ha" moment that we long for our learners to have when the "penny drops" and it all comes together.
And maybe now it's my turn to "get it":
I'll never be able to "instruct" someone how to ride a bike. All I can do is to help them make this discovery themselves by creating a safe environment, providing just enough instruction at the right time, lavishing praise for any attempt they make and getting out of the way.
And maybe providing a little celebratory ice cream, of course....
Happy riding, Isaac! And thanks for teaching me something too.