A few months ago I removed the support wheels from Nabiha’s bicycle and googled “Teaching your child to ride a bike”. Soon enough I was armed with plentiful information about how to train a child to master the art. As per the internet learning how to ride is a two-step process—learning how to balance the bike and learning how to pedal. It also mentions the need for patience and positive attitude. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well it’s not. Especially for a woman who cannot ride a bicycle if her life depends on it. Ahem…but my daughter doesn’t know that, so don’t tell her.
The most valuable lesson I learned from this experience was that if you teach a child a new skill, leave them alone to it. That is if you want to teach a child to balance a bike, leave them alone with the bike in your backyard and don’t try to ease the process of learning by giving them tips on what they should or shouldn’t do. Sure, guiding them about the technique, will help them but that is not the most important part of the learning process. The most important part it seems is letting your child experiment, make mistakes and gain confidence. Nabiha did learn to ride a bicycle eventually. But how she mastered the art of cycling after her mom almost ruined her chances of learning it, is a story in itself.
From what I read the best way to learn the balancing act is to ride the bike down a slight slope multiple times, without touching the feet on the ground. Since I couldn’t find a suitable slope for her, I pushed her from behind and told her to try to balance the bicycle. At each attempt, I’d tell her how she was doing and how to make it better. We tried it out for two weeks and it seemed like it was impossible for her to keep the bike straight. As per my husband’s advice, She tried kicking the ground herself to make the bike move forward. But whenever she kicked the bike would tilt to one side and she would just stand up. The net is full of advice about patience and positive attitude while your child practices the first step, but still there is not enough of it. Because, even with all that I had read, I lost my cool multiple times and my negative attitude effect Nabiha’s motivation. Eventually, we got so frustrated we both gave up.
However, during Ramadan, with the lack of activities, Nabiha got her bicycle out again. This time I neither had the strength to push her from the back, or time to give her feedback about each of her attempts. That seemed to do the trick. Soon she got the hang of getting the bike to glide forward without crashing it to the ground. When the bike tilted to one side she kicked it forward from that side then the bike tilted to the other side and she kicked from that side as well. Soon she was biking the whole length of our house with alternate kicks all day long. But the poor bike was unable to sustain all the crashes of the unmonitored learner and lost a pedal and its chain. But that was ok with Nabiha, the wheels of the bicycle were intact and turned fine as she swayed along on highspeed. After Ramadan, I happily noted that kept both feet up for long stretches while her cycle went forward. It would have been a miracle if I didn’t notice, with all the happy screams that accompanied the feat.
Last week we got the bike fixed to make it fully functional. Nabiha started working the pedals. With all the self-confidence and self-assurance that she had developed she got the hang of it in two days. Or maybe it was the easy part. And today my heart welled up watching her go. She learned a new skill. And the truth is she got the hang of it herself. “Getting the hang of it” part came to her naturally. Though my feedback may have helped. But the real teacher was the time that she spent making mistakes and thinking inward about them.
Finally, end the story of a proud mom who didn’t learned to ride a bike but taught her daughter to do so (or watched her daughter learn it herself). And like all good story it has a moral too. The most important part of teaching your child a new skill is to give them time to falter and think inward. Making mistakes and self-correction does a lot more good to a child’s learning curve than continuous feedback and advice from parents.