Monday, April 18, 2011

Balance is Key

Last fall I tried to get Austin to ride his bike without training wheels.  It wasn't a success.  He has taken to leaning heavily on his left training wheel (I was able to raise the right enough so he couldn't lean that way...but the left only went so high) so much that when I took off the training wheels he would immediately tip right over.

After only a week I gave up and put them back on.  Fast forward to this summer.  I'll be damned if I am going to be making all our park walks as slow as he rides with training wheels.  He is not a "need for speed" kind of kid to begin with, but add to it a completely lopsided bike ride (because of his leaning) plus some noisy plastic training wheels creating as much friction as sandpaper, and we have ourselves one excrutiatingly slow walk.

So, it was back to no training wheels.  I enlisted the help of Rob this time because I thought he'd have more patience with the boy.  Not that I was getting mad at Austin (well, not all the time) but that's my flaw as a teacher.  Some things, to me, can't be just have to "get" them.  He was not "getting" it.

Rob took him across the street to our big flat grass field and tried to teach him there so when he'd wipe out, it wouldn't result in gravel laced scrapes.  And although it was a great idea, and sort of worked, grass fields are bumpy and not ideal.  After another couple tries by me on the sidewalk I realized that our son has no balance.  For as much as he leaps around the house, scales the swingset, and flies up rockwalls at parks....when it comes to bikes, he has no balance.

Then I remembered something I bought him when he was two years old.  He never fit on it so it got put in storage for quite some time.

It's a "balance bike".  They are catching on in popularity in the US, but have been around for decades in the Netherlands (or so a coworker from there told me).  The idea is that a young child (age 2-3) runs around on one of these for a year or two pushing with their feet and eventually getting comfortable enough and fast enough to push and glide down the street.  Then, when they are big enough for a regular bike, you just explain the concept of pedaling and off they go, because they have already worked up a great sense of balance no training wheels are ever needed.

So, I dusted it off (literally), adjusted the seat and explained it to Austin.  We started about a foot up the driveway.  The game was that he had to go down the driveway and across the sidewalk (the finish line) without his feet touching the ground.  Once he accomplished that distance we made another mark on the driveway and tried again...working our way up the driveway.

Day 1 was slow but he made about 5 marks up.  Day 2 just clicked with him and he made it up the rest of the way.  Here's a video from Day 2.

Once he repeatedly went down the driveway without feet we got him on his regular bike and had him do the same thing.  He, of course, crashed his first time, declared he hated bikes and stomped inside the house.

Day 3.  He decided he didn't hate his bike and he tried again.  After a few times he was successful and then I told him to put his feet on the pedals and do the same thing (no pedaling).  After that, we tackled the sidewalk AND pedaling.  He took off.

Okay, "took off" is relative term here.  But, without much effort, he was able to bike 20 feet before stopping.  I think that was last Wednesday.  We've had a lot of wind so biking hasn't been ideal around here, but yesetrday he biked past 3 houses before he had to stop.

Those Dutch are on to something...

1 comment:

Jane said...

I was thinknig of getting one of those for Barrett (she has managed to even tip over her bike with the training wheels on). Glad to hear that they seem to work. Might have to invest in one.