The bike will transform anyone who is willing to let it happen… —Ina-Yoko Teutenberg
We are five years into our biking curriculum at Laurel School, and we are lucky to have plenty of space to ride. Our Lyman Campus gives us field space, a large indoor gym, outdoor pathways, and a circle to ride around so that students don’t need to deal with traffic. A local park with rolling hills and trails is a short ride away. Grade 4 spends a full month at the Butler Campus during their Power and Purpose unit, and that’s when and where their skills really take off.
Our curriculum starts with our youngest students walking and gliding on balance bikes. They progress to pedal pushing on our trikes. When they are ready, they move to longer glide skills, and then a pedal bike with the pedals removed. With pedals back on the bikes, our next step is to give them a little push to start on their pedaling journey and from there, the road is theirs to own.
Running a Pre-Primary to Grade 4 biking curriculum is not easy. You need bikes and a place to store them. We tried renting them, but adjusting seats and constant maintenance coupled with the girls’ desire to ride their own bikes meant we needed a change. Girls in Grades 2-4 now bring their own bikes. If girls do not have a bike, we have loaner balance and pedal bikes that we collected through a bike drive.
We can point to four transformations from biking.
Biking transformed our curriculum. More often, we think outside of the box as a department since developing this program. We now have discussions around how to make new things happen when designing new units or curricula.
Biking transforms a class. We have seen girls cheer each other on and show empathy towards classmates who are new to the skill. They are supportive, aware of others’ feelings, and sensitive to others’ experiences. Anne struggles with her balance, the last of her classmates to ride a pedal bike; but given the chance to show what she has been working on, she glides through the gym as her classmates cheer her name and clap. The timid and fearful girl on her bike now demonstrates confidence as her peers celebrate her efforts. Her classmates recognize her work and acknowledge her struggle on two wheels; they think and feel beyond themselves.
Biking transforms teachers. There is a special bond that you have when working with a child who is trying to achieve something as important as learning how to ride a bike. The child who shied away from you now runs up to greet you with a hug after you helped her through a challenging moment on her bike. It’s as if you share a secret. “We got this,” are the unspoken words you share with a fist bump and a high five. You see each other differently now. The growth mindset of the child affects the growth mindset of the teacher.
Biking transforms kids. The tentative rider finds joy in the movement that comes with biking. The freedom to move around space, the ability to control speed and location, is powerful. You can learn a great deal about how your students face and deal with adversity when you put them on a bicycle. How do they rise to the challenge? What support do they need? There is great power given to a nine-year- old who can fix her own bike when something breaks. She feels it and her confidence grows.
We were both moved to tears when Alison, whose parents had given us a heads-up that she was “really afraid of biking and very anxious about this unit,” flies down a hill, pedals her heart out, falls over, yells “I got this!,” and then gets back up and goes at it again. When Victoria says, “I have never been on a balance bike. I have training wheels at home. I cannot do this,” we say, “We’ve got you. We will do this together,” and five minutes later, she is whipping around the gym using her pedals, now trying to figure out how to slow down because she is having so much fun. When Beth, who begs us not to let go of her and to hold onto her bike because she is afraid of falling over, finally nails her balance and then turns to us and says, “Can you let go of my bike now? I don’t need you anymore. I can ride now,” our hearts are full.
Out at our Butler Campus, we showed our fourth graders how to pop a chain and replace it. The girls said, “I could never do that. I am scared. I don’t know what I would do if my chain popped.” Next class, we popped all their chains and they each put them back on independently. They got greasy and messy, and they loved it.
That’s what biking is. Independence. Freedom. Problem solving. Self care. Persistence. Resilience. Yes, kids fall off their bikes. Sometimes they cry and maybe get a scrape or a bruise. Sometimes they are scared. But when those kids pick themselves up, dust off, wipe away tears and get back on that bike, they learn that failure will not win today. They learn that change does not come without challenge. They learn that accepting discomfort is okay. They learn they can do it. These are skills they will journey with their entire lives. Biking transforms them, and it is an honor to be a part of that transformation.