Sunday, 16 March 2008

Do stabilisers slow down baby bikers?

There's a piece in the Observer today, about a piece of working I'm doing about children learning to ride bikes, which seems to me to sum up something about how early childhood is seen. The article gives a bit of an alarming impression of me "spearheading" an experiment to prove that stabilisers hold children's progress back when they are learning to ride a bike, the implication also being that parents who still use stabilisers are getting it all wrong. Actually it's all rather more muddled than that - just an idea, a little experiment to give children bikes without stabilisers and see what happens.

When I read the article, I thought - what if I had come back from a morning in the local park, damp, after putting the required hours into encouraging my child round on stabilisers, or holding the back of the seat in the time-honoured, back-paining manner, and read that I was doing it all wrong. That sense that you try your hardest, only for some so-called "expert" to say you got it wrong.

So - though the report is perfectly reasonable and fair, it comes across in a way that will, I think, make some parents feel that they have neglected the "best" way to do things. Hopefully other parents will read it and think that they learnt to ride a bike with stabilisers, as did the kids over the road, and who's to say all of a sudden it's all wrong?

To end on a personal note - I love my bike and I take special interest in how the children where I work start to learn to ride bikes. I felt increasingly turned off the traditional nursery school trikes because of seeing children simply tearing round on them for a year, or more, without really developing much. It was more like they were getting away from something...The wooden LikeABikes are tricky for children at first, but they soon get the hang of them, and it has been wonderful to see very little children managing to balance and zoom around on two-wheeled bikes. So I am excited by the prospect of doing more to introduce children to two-wheelers, and it seems to me that this is exactly what children's centres are for - to experiment, and to enjoy the capability of little children.

Since the piece in the Observer, I've had several emails from parents and others who have taught their children to ride by starting off with wooden two-wheeled bikes, and I've also been introduced to the concept of countersteering which might explain why stabilisers may not be as helpful as they seem. So I'm looking forward to seeing how the children get on over the summer and whether we can help a generation of nursery-leavers to be confident cyclists.

You can see some Islington children on the LikeABikes here.