Riding a bike. It's often seen as an essential skill for an Australian child. Learning to ride is a traditional rite of passage that can involve lots of nervousness, falls, tears and scraped knees.
Today our 4 year old son taught himself to ride a bike. He is zooming around outside while I type this! No tears or angst at all. For him it has been a tremendously fun day and he is super proud of himself for it. And really, isn't that how learning should be?
Mr 4 has always been a sporty child. He inherited his excellent coordination from his dad (it's certainly not from me!). By his second birthday he could ride a scooter with ease. At 26 months we wanted to buy him a balance bike for Christmas. We took him to a bike shop to test out different sizes - but no. He was insistent he needed "a bike with pedals, like daddy has". So that is what he got, a traditional bike with pedals and training wheels.
He loved his bike and would often ride 6 km (3.7 miles) at a time! Cycling "experts" told us he would be one of those kids who could have the training wheels off within weeks. They showed us videos of tiny toddlers riding skillfully. "He can do it, just take his training wheels off!" As a parent, it is easy to fall into the trap. We all want our kids to be "special", "gifted", "talented". But even though he might have been the next YouTube sensation, we respected our son, who was insistent that he needed his training wheels. And continued to need them for much longer than everyone around us predicted.
Over the last two years we occasionally wondered if we should push him a bit harder. Should we just take off the training wheels while he was asleep? I worried that he would never want them off at all. But we held back and waited.
A few months after his 4th birthday, he was watching some older kids ride around the park. He suddenly asked if we could help him remove his training wheels! So we did, feeling excited but trying not to make a big deal of it. Mr 4 tried to ride that day but wasn't feeling confident about the pedals so asked for those to be removed too. So off they came... and now here we were, with a balance bike set up, a whole two years after we initially wanted to get him one!
That was 6 weeks ago. This week we are spending a few days relaxing in a waterside caravan park. We were having a slow breakfast outside this morning when Mr 4 announced - "I need my pedals put back on, please".
Okay. Hubby found them in the caravan storage compartment. They worked together to put them on. Mr 4 wheeled his bike over to a small grassy slope nearby, took a big breath and started to ride. A few wobbles, then he pedaled faster to the bottom of the slope. He repeated this over and over, getting more confident and a bigger grin emerging each time.
That was this morning. This afternoon, he is riding in laps around the caravan park. He hasn't fallen off once. He hasn't cried, gotten frustrated or been scared. He hasn't needed an adult to run alongside him holding the seat.
He has not stopped smiling all day.
"Mummy, I can ride my bike properly now!"
I admit that whilst I love the theory of child-led learning and unschooling, I still have a little voice niggling "but does it REALLY work?"
It's moments like this that I see it. The joy and accomplishment a child experiences when they learn something on their own terms, at the pace they want. No one pushing them to try it before they feel ready. No set guideline that says "because you are .... years old, you need to learn xyz skills" or "because you are good at ....., you need to be doing.....".
These moments remind me that we are making a good choice in not forcing our children into mainstream education. Because learning to ride a bike is the same as any other skill... reading, writing, swimming, addition.... if you wait until the individual child is ready for it, it can happen quickly and easily, without stress. And involves a lot more joy and smiles!
A mum of two trying to find her way through the Australian school system.