Teaching my son how to ride a bike was something I dreaded, if I’m being perfectly honest. I worried about it, put it off, made a couple feeble attempts at it….and then took it to a veteran mom friend. Guess what she said? I should out-source bike lessons!!! What a relief, LOL!
This is a friend who lives in Durham, and she told me that REI outdoor stores do bike lessons, and that’s how her youngest son learned. She has two amazing boys, she’s a terrific mom, and she outsourced? I went to the REI website.
What I learned was that REI doesn’t do classes in the Charlotte area, BUT I found somebody who does, and it’s even better: Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Centers offer private lessons – as well as some learn-to-ride events – and it’s all free.
I couldn’t sign up fast enough. My 5-year-old Wade had been doing great on training wheels, but the one attempt we’d made without them had not gone very well. I found an instructor at Tom Sykes Recreation Center, facility manager Gabe Hackney, and was blown away by the thoughtful instruction and genuine enthusiasm both he and recreation specialist Shauna Powell showed Wade.
To my surprise, not only did they offer a lesson, but a few. I took Wade for three lessons in all, which not only got him going on the bike, but helped him work on stopping and starting, and then some turning. It was reassuring that learning to ride a bike is not something you’re expected to snap your fingers and do in a day. It takes practice, like everything else.
Hackney asked me to drop Wade off that first morning and make myself scarce.
“It’s almost like a swimming lesson,” he said. “Let whoever is teaching them teach them and come back. If you’re there and you’re watching, they may not respond as well because you’re the safety net. They know they can act a certain way with you….”
“I think a lot of it, with the biking in particular, is just fear of disappointment. And then as a parent, you want your child to succeed and you know they have the skill and the talent to do it. And you’re like ‘I’ve taught you everything you know in your entire life, why are you not picking this up? I told you what to do, please do it.’ You get frustrated. They sense the frustration. They know you really well. They just respond better (to a teacher.)”
By the time I came back 45 minutes later, Hackney was working with another student – and I thought Hm, this is either really good news or really bad. But Wade came barreling out of the office from a water break with Powell, with a smile on his face. They told me Wade had been pedaling on his own within the first 10 minutes with Hackney, so they turned him over to Powell so Hackney could move on to help someone else.
They worked with Wade on a grass field that day, so that any falls wouldn’t derail his progress. And by the second lesson, Wade was biking down the paved driveway at Dilworth Elementary. I have to say, for just a split second, watching Wade zooming down the driveway with Shauna running alongside him, both of them laughing, I felt a pang of jealousy. She’d gotten to participate in such a pivotal and happy moment in his childhood.
I confessed this to Shauna later. Her response came as a surprise, and made me feel better!
“I can’t get my 5-year-old to ride his bike,” she said. “I have that same feeling, that he senses the frustration with me, but with other kids, it’s fine.”
After those three lessons, not only did Wade gain some confidence, so did I. That meant I could be positive and calm and encouraging when he and I got out there with the bike again, instead of trying to hide my angst. Now Wade’s got the feel for it, and we have the tools to help him get better and better.
Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Centers offer bike lessons for all ages, including adults, and some occasional learn-to-ride events. For information, call your nearby recreation center. Among the Charlotte area centers that have certified biking teachers are Arbor Glen, Berewick, Elon, Mallard Creek, Naomi Drenan, and Tom Sykes recreation centers.
In the meantime, Hackney offers some guidance on how to know when your child is ready for bike lessons.
“I think a lot of parents think, ‘Well, you’re 5 years old, it’s time for you to ride,’” he said. “And it’s just not that way with everybody.”
Here are 3 ways you can tell your child is ready to learn how to bike:
– They enjoy it when you put them on a bike and push them for a few minutes.
– They love riding a balance bike or scooter.
– They are using training wheels and pedal at a decent speed, showing little fear.
The best thing about all of this? We have twin boys who are also on the verge of riding bikes, and it’s hard to find ways to keep them both safe while they learn at the same time. Now I’ve already got my solution for how! For more information, visit the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation website.