I’ve been communicating with a new friend who has an interesting way of
learning new activities and wonder what the group thinks about this
method. I have yet to try it but it’s well worth a shot with some of the
kids in our club who don’t progress as fast as others. My friend is just
learning how to ride a unicycle.
My father, *****, asked me to share my philosophy on teaching bike
riding. I have to give credit to him as I got the idea from his teaching
me to drive a car. At one point, he had me slam on the breaks. I tried
but was afraid to squeal the tires until he finally convinced me to do
it. An idea was born.
I have found that in learning a new skill requiring a new kind of balance,
or a new set of muscle memory, it helps to go through the full spectrum of
positions and balances related to the activity. For lack of a better
description, it seems to “loosen things up”.
Typically, when learning to ride a bike, you are in unfamiliar territory,
staying on a narrow band of the motion spectrum, movement outside of which
increases your already present discomfort. When you’re comfortable with
that band of the spectrum, you naturally start expanding to a broader
range of motion.
I have found that you can shortcut this process through a controlled
exploration of the extremes on the motion spectrum. For example, when
teaching a child to ride a bike, I start with the bike in a stationary
position and have the child keep his feet on the pedals while I tilt the
bike back and forth as far as possible. Their temptation is to move their
foot from the pedal to the ground, but with time they get used to leaning
while staying on the bike. I then spot them through a series of extreme
S-turns. This gets them used to the association of leaning and turning
through the full spectrum of motion. Gradually, I support less and less of
the child and the bike until ultimately I am holding only the back of
their neck, then a pinch of their shirt, then nothing. The longest I have
seen this take is 3 lessons of approximately 1 hour. My neighbor taught
his boy with this method in 1 day.
(I think he held on to something at or above his head here) For the
unicycle, I simply rolled the wheel as far forward and backward as I could
without “switching to the other foot,” meaning that one foot seems to be
in control and there is a definite point at which it feels you have
switched to the other foot. I rolled the wheel back and forth 2 different
ways, both keeping my butt over the wheel and pushing the wheel out from
under me. It was very awkward, and I didn’t feel I was making much
progress, but I quickly got comfortable with it and was riding shortly
afterward. I alternated riding along using the wall for balance with going
through the “extremes” from a stationary position.
Other thoughts. Each time I start a child on a bike (I have done 3 so
far), it seems as though progress is slow and I’m not getting anywhere.
Persistence has invariably shown that this is a false perception. Also, I
believe one of the reasons this method works is that instead of feeling at
the mercy of the device, you push it to extremes and gain a sense of
control, or mastery, over the device.
I hope this is helpful, or at least interesting.