Sunday, October 11, 2009

In Praise of BaLaNcE

Ronan got his first bike with training wheels on his third birthday, though he didn't want anything to do with it for a few months. Eventually he rode around on it until he had a minor biking accident that hurt and scared him and he stopped riding it again for awhile. Over the course of almost four more years we tried a few times to take the training wheels off so that he could ride a big boy bike but each time he requested that the training wheels be put back on. He wasn't ready. One day, we took off the training wheels, the crank and the pedals and made our own balance/push bike. He tried this out for a couple of weeks, getting the hang of balancing his body to keep the bike upright. On the last day of school when he was almost seven, I took him to a consignment bike store to pick out a bike that was appropriate for his size in anticipation that this would be the summer he would be ready to ride a big boy bike. He picked out one he liked and took it for a test drive and I let go. He took off, riding off down the sidewalk as if he had been riding without training wheels for months! We were both so thrilled!

Although he had a year of pedaling practice with a big wheel, we decided to start Jude off with a balance bike, which he got for his fourth birthday. Just like Ronan, he wouldn't touch it for a few weeks. Then he started riding it cautiously, and within a week he was not only balancing, but even doing tricks on a moving bike. Within a month he asked to try a big boy bike with pedals and without training wheels. On his very first try he rode off down the driveway like a seasoned rider. Again, parent and child were thrilled!

Given the popularity of balance bikes, we are not the only ones who have found that they are great for learning to ride a bike. I think that the balance bikes are a great metaphor for education. Just like on a bike, each kid learns at his own natural pace and what makes him ready is not the external work, but something from within.

A child will learn to read not so much by constant effort and badgering by another person, but by being ready and willing on a timeline that is natural and unique to each person. True, it does take effort, and practice, and plenty of opportunity to learn both bike riding and reading, but neither can be rushed. Both will happen when there is a sense of balance, confidence, and willingness - the internal pieces that must be in place for the independence on bikes or books to occur.

In education, a child that is pressured to read through nearly constant practice and tutoring has no balance. Academic balance comes from not only exposure to literacy, but to other important aspects of humanity, like nature, art, science, math, socializing, history, play, etc. Through the exploration of all of the interesting aspects that make us human we achieve a vital sense of balance that enables us to grow in each area. Not only is a maniacal focus on ever earlier literacy unnecessary and developmentally inappropriate, it also robs us of the opportunity to understand and explore other subjects. At a young age, breadth is what allows us to understand our world. This foundation gives us balance and the ability to grow. It allows us to achieve not only literacy but a strong foundation of knowledge in any other subject.

Balance and biking and literacy will all come if we act as facilitators for them to naturally unfold at their own rate with enthusiasm, encouragement, respect, understanding, and patience. Then, look out! They will take off with joy and confidence to fuel them forward!


  1. Nicely put! I love the comparison!

  2. I just found your site (through AERO) - refreshing! I'm with Merge Education which is closely aligned with your thinking - please visit us at and let me know if you'd like to link up -- i'll look forward to following you!