Like Falling Off a Bike

My first attempt at teaching Sophie to ride a bike was made without any prior planning. It did not go well. Even well-armored with a helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, and wrist guards, riding a bike just isn’t fun after you’ve fallen enough times.

Learning to ride is really all about learning to balance, and unfortunately the most intuitive ways to teach bike riding do absolutely nothing to teach balance.

One common approach is to run alongside the child, helping to steer with the handlebars or with the back of the seat. This means the child can ride for quite a distance successfully, but only because it’s the parent who’s doing all the balancing work. The child learns nothing important.

The opposite approach is to give a push start and then let the child fend for herself. This means she alone is responsible for staying upright — but since won’t be able to at first, she’ll likely fall so quickly that it will be hard to learn anything from the experience.

We tried both these techniques with Sophie for a couple days without really getting anywhere.

Since the new rider has to learn to balance independently, touching her or the bike is completely off-limits. But since the cost of crashing is too high (with too little time to learn and the potential for injury), letting her ride unaccompanied is also not appropriate.

The solution: run along behind the bike with outstretched arms, forming a rigid frame — rather like rollbars. As long as Sophie was riding upright, I wouldn’t be touching her and she’d be balancing herself. But when she did start to tip to either side, she’d be leaning into my arm. I wouldn’t push her back up — she had to learn how to do that with her own body weight and the bike’s handlebars — but at least she wouldn’t fall to the ground. In fact, she could continue riding even while tipped impossibly far to the side, trying the whole time to figure out how to correct her balance.

And she did. After just 30 minutes of practicing with this technique, she was riding independently. That was last summer, and now that we have nice weather again she’s back outside riding like a pro. The only difficulty she has anymore is that we’ll ride so far at once (we’re up to about a mile now) her legs get tired and she has to take a break.

The only penalty for me was getting a good workout — which I probably needed anyway. This approach requires running behind a moving bike (at about six or seven miles per hour) while hunched over and often supporting the entire weight of a five year old and her bicycle.

This whole idea came from the advice of Sheldon Brown from Harris Cyclery in Newton, Massachusetts (apparently located just 15 minutes from my old apartment in Boston) on teaching kids to ride. Besides offering basic tips on building balance, the page also discusses some novel teaching techniques that would have been our next step if Sophie hadn’t learned so quickly.

The Dollar Store

Overheard at the Dollar Tree:

Employee: (to manager) I’m going to need some ones.

Really? That isn’t the sort of problem that’ll just sort itself out if you let a couple more people checkout? Ya know… ’cause it’s the dollar store?

The Future is Complicated

A visiting sixth grader stepped out of the restroom at Sophie’s school at an event this evening and remarked to his friend:

This bathroom is so old school. To get a paper towel you have to push a little thing.

Not to mention you have to rub it on your hands to get the water off and then find a “trash can” to dispose of the used device. It’s so… analog!

Remember Your Geography?

See if you can name every country in the world over at sporacle.

You get only seven minutes, but the game will help you out tremendously by automatically naming every country that borders the ones you type. So just entering “Russia” will also get you credit for Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, and North Korea. Plus Lithauania and Poland. You forgot Kalingrad was over there, didn’t you.

I managed only 158 of the 195 countries included (since some disputed territories like Palestine and Western Sahara aren’t counted). I think that’s a B minus, though if my math is as rusty as my geography it could be anything.

Think it’s too easy having all the bordering countries handed to you for free? Not to worry! You can also try to name all 195 countries without any hints in 15 minutes. You do at least get to see a blank world map there which is labeled as you go. I managed only 150 countries there.

If you’re discovering you need to brush up on your geography skills, I recommend the games over at Sheppard Software. They’re designed to teach, not quiz. You can choose a region (either a whole continent, or just a few countries at a time) and then click each country as its named appears and is spoken. If you miss (twice) the game will show you where the country is so you can learn quickly from your mistakes.

Maybe with enough practice you’ll be able to identify all the countries by their capital city.