Tools to Help Japanese Schoolchildren Find Balance: Unicycles

Tools to Help Japanese Schoolchildren Find Balance: Unicycles

The minister of education recommends unicycles for all students.

Hope all the nations get this idea!

I hear that Trump plans to bring unicycling to all public schools in the US. He’s a well-balanced humanitarian with a well-balanced plan.

From the NYT article: “I see kids being challenged and encouraged to do things that I have never seen kids encouraged to do in the U.S.,” said Matthew Thibeault, an American who teaches at a middle school affiliated with Toyama University on the west coast of Japan, “and a lot of equipment that would be considered risky.”

He’s onto something there, and it goes way beyond the question of unicycles in the schools. The for-your-own-protection rationale has become a mantra in the US to help the long arm of the law reach further and further into people’s private lives.

Oh well, a tiny number of US schools do have unicycling programs. School sports programs in general are being cut back nowadays, though, and schools themselves are being closed all across the country. Obama, shortly after being elected, announced that he wanted to close 5,000 schools, and he has now met or surpassed that benchmark, with most schools reopening under private, military and/or religious management. Trump undoubtedly has a similar plan, but maybe there’s hope for unicycling in schools if it can be billed as a low-cost alternative to football teams.

There was a post on Facebook today of a little girl accidentally holding on and going right over the top on a kind of revolving tube playride - to my amazement all the comments instead of being ‘Wow!’ seemed to be criticising the mother for filming it and not somehow stopping it - despite the fact that she couldn’t have got there in time anyway once she saw the girl wasn’t just sliding down as intended.

risk and danger and getting to know your limits

As an American living in Germany with small kids I can say one of the biggest differences in culture is the danger and risk and liability, especially concerning kids. While I think true safety is important and a playground with nails sticking out is a bad thing, in the US nowadays every possible risk has been systematically eliminated so kids don’t really get to learn their limits or how to deal with actual danger (e.g. a US playground labeled “for kids 6-12” is way too simple and boring for my 4 year old! and totally doable for my 2 year-old). In contrast there is a German playground near me where there is a circuit of swaying boards on chains about 8 feet up in the air where small kids walk across (the first time my 2 year old went across I was a little concerned, but you just stay below to catch them just in case and they learn to master it by themselves – at first it’s also a good experience for the kid to decide on his own that he can’t do it by himself).

Or we have “toddler gymnastics” at the local sport club and while they do use some mats and such, I think most of the makeshift obstacles like an upside-down wooden bench suspended between two pedestals would be a no-go in the US.

Same thing goes for public transit and/pr going to/from school where here it is common to have 7-8 year olds to take public transit alone to school (I think riding your bike to school is allowed starting in 2nd grade). A 5-year old of friends of ours takes the bus home from Kindergarten (and the parents are not considered irresponsible, as the boy is capable and knows how to get help and the parents are home like 30 minutes later). From what I’ve heard, something like that is forbidden by the school policies at most US schools, sometimes even well past age 10 or so.

Learning to deal with risk and danger and getting to know your limits within some broad safety limits set by parents is of course the best. My 4-year old bikes off-road “downhill” and in a pumptrack and is in the process of learning to unicycle (not pushing her, I think she’ll learn it around 5 to 5-and-a-half).

Several grammer schools in Seattle include unicycling in the physical education class. The one in my neighborhood has over 100 riders. Not sure if pads/helmets are optional. I think the Seattle programs have been around for years because one of my co-workers remembers a unicycle program at the Seattle grammer school he attended.

This summer while on a ride in Spokane several people mentioned a program there.

Perhaps there are many well balance people in Seattle (and Spokane) :smiley:

One time when I passed the school on my uni one kid said, “look a parent riding a unicycle”. So seeing a unicyclist around here is not so rare but seeing an adult on one is.

Yeah, there’s a playground in my neighborhood with a fitness area off to one side where adults and teenagers from the nearby housing projects do their calisthenics. The kids who are older than 4 or 5 can’t stand their own designated playground equipment, so they often run over to the fitness area, a sturdy, hand-welded relic of a previous age, and climb as high as possible on the bars or attempt to do pull-ups themselves. When you get tired of calisthenics, the place also has some basketball courts that are good for a wheel walk, and a nice little stairway for hopping.

But as part of a comprehensive Jim Crow restoration plan to make people from the housing projects disappear, as well as potential child molesters, drug users, skateboarders and the homeless, the fitness area is about to be torn out and replaced with yet another identical set of safe, age-appropriate playground equipment for kids, who will be bored to tears. The rest of us will get back to our obesity epidemic, I guess. I took some people to a couple of the Community Board meetings where the plan for this outrage was presented, but no one who was against the proposal was even allowed to speak!

When my son was about 4 I had to stop taking him to the popular ‘soft play’ arena where everything is big blocks of foam padding. He started jumping off inappropriately high places at home, because his sense of what was and wasn’t dangerous was getting warped. One of the things I have enjoyed about my unicycle practice at the local skatepark (which is a pretty small one so mostly younger kids) is seeing kids I don’t have a biologically protective relationship to making their own decisions about what might be within their safe range. They are pretty accurate, even when there are bigger or more experienced kids doing more.