Summer is here. For those of us in the midwest, this means the snow is finally gone, sidewalks are cleared, and kids are once again laughing and playing outside. For a dad of four kids, this is an amazing time of year. I love my kids, but giving them a little more fresh air and time to play outdoors is much needed, for me and for them.
In my neighborhood, we are blessed to have a community pool. We live a mile into our subdivision, far off the main roads, near a dead end. As a result, the only real traffic we get in front of our house comes from our neighbors who live nearby and are familiar with my kids and their play habits. Some days my kids can be found out back jumping on the trampoline but increasingly, my kids are choosing to grab their bikes and ride down to the pool, half a mile away.
I was born in 1977 and grew up as an 80’s kid. Back then it was not uncommon for children to hop on their bikes and disappear for the day, returning home just as the street lights came on. Today, however, my kids and their bike riding habits are a novelty. In a neighborhood filled with kids, it is a rare sight to see a child outside playing or riding up and down the sidewalks on a bike, scooter, or skateboard. It’s a shame. My kids love getting outside and experiencing the freedom that comes from hopping on their bikes and just going for a ride, but they haven’t always had this level of freedom.
When they were each just learning how to ride, I was there watching them like a hawk. I would run alongside them. I would catch them as they were falling. I would dust off scrapes and scratches. I would cheer them on and encourage them to keep going. Eventually, each of them learned the art of balance and gained enough skill and confidence that I was no longer needed by their side.
This is also an amazing metaphor for life. Maybe another blog post will come from it. As a dad, my goal is to raise children who can eventually live without me. That is terrifying, but it is also reality. This same reality plays itself out in our classrooms. As educators, our goal for each of our students should be to help foster a level of independence that allows our students to thrive without us.
When my children are outside on their bikes, I will often sneak a peek through my front windows. I will see them jumping curves, riding no-handed, or creating small ramps to drive over. Without a doubt, if I were out there with them, I would be cautioning them to be safe, to slow down, and to be careful. I would probably stunt their development as bike riders more than I would help them.
When my kids ask if they can go outside and ride, I do not respond with a scripted practice regimen of “Ride for fifteen minutes then come back and summarize what you did.” or “Go ride ten laps around the block then I want you to journal about your experience.”. I simply let them go ride and let the fun of learning allow them to keep growing.
It’s been said before that once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget.This isn’t because bike riding is easy. It’s because of how we are taught. Lasting learning comes from doing. It comes from failing and overcoming. It comes from experimenting and taking chances.
Sometimes when you are teaching kids a skill you want them to remember you will see that when you let them go and let them grow, they will amaze you. Practice and learning should be fun, not drill and kill.
My kids are amazing bike riders who never had to memorize the names of bicycle parts, famous bike riders, or the history of bicycling in America. They simply had to get some encouragement, a little guidance, and then I had to get out of the way. How might this same approach work in your classroom with what you are teaching your kids?
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