A month before my daughter’s 2nd birthday I researched the best gift to give her. I didn’t want more pointless toys to fill her room and never be played with, so I set out to give her the perfect gift. Through all of my research and talking with friends, I finally found the perfect gift! A balance bike. If you’re not familiar with a balance bike, it’s a two wheeler bike that kids pump with their feet instead of pedals. The idea behind a balance bike is that it teaches kids how to balance on a bike instead of relying on training wheels, making the transition to a standard two wheel pedal bike that much easier.
The first day we got the bike my daughter was so excited! However, upon attempting to ride the bike, she quickly became frustrated because she couldn’t do it. So naturally, I became frustrated with myself that I tried to pick out the BEST gift, but it seemed to have flopped, because she didn’t like it and couldn’t do it.
However, day after day, we practiced and practiced the bike. We had many walks around the neighborhood and bike rides with friends and eventually it was starting to click. It absolutely did not happen overnight, but it did happen! She then continued to ride the balance bike for a year and a half after that original day of her looking at it reluctantly, and I was proud of the progress she had made.
Eventually, she became very adept on her balance bike and started noticing that other, older kids were riding pedal bikes. Naturally, she started asking for one. I was hesitant to agree, because of her age. She was only 3.5 years old! I continued to say no to her day after day, all the while, she kept asking.
Finally, I found a second-hand pedal bike equipped with training wheels within our budget and caved, mostly because it had the training wheels. I figured it would give her a chance to learn how to pedal on a bike, since she had not learned that yet.
When I came home with the bike, she immediately grabbed her helmet and took off. It only took a second of fumbling with the pedals before she figured it out, and off she went. She rode two houses down, turned around, and came right back. I was BAFFLED. It almost felt like my eyes and brain weren’t working. Was I really watching my daughter effortlessly ride a pedal bike? Granted, with training wheels, but I was still thoroughly impressed.
The next day when we got the bike out again to ride again, I noticed that the training wheels weren’t actually hitting the ground much, she was mostly riding the bike herself, and when I addressed it with her, she told me she needed them and couldn’t ride without them on. It took a lot of talking and convincing and discussion, but eventually she let us take the training wheels off. Then, I did what a lot of parents do with their kids. I stooped over and I held the back of her seat and one handlebar while she slowly gained her balance, straightened the bike out, and continued to ride as my hands loosened grip and eventually let go. The moment I let go I knew it was a ride or die moment. She would either continue pedaling and fly, or realize what was happening and crash. I held my breath to see what would happen….
And she did it! She continued to pump her feet and steer the bike with the perfection that any 3.5 year old could have. I was so proud of her! And again, I honestly could not believe my eyes.
That night I was reflecting on the situation and absolutely in awe that my 3 year old could ride a two-wheeler pedal bike by herself. I distinctly remember when I learned to ride a bike, I was in first grade and boasted to all of my 6 year old friends about it the next day at school. How did my child learn to ride a bike at half that age?
When it boils down to it- I underestimated her. In my mind, I believed that kids learn to ride a bike around kindergarten to first grade, and even though I set up my child for success by providing her with a balance bike at a young age, I still could not wrap my mind around the fact that she had the ability to do this on her own. From the very first time I shut down her idea of a pedal bike, I was shutting down the idea that she was capable.
What else was I underestimating my kids on? Definitely their ability to climb a ladder. Or anytime I called out “be careful” while they were on a playground. Why was I forcing them to live in this idealistic box of how old they had to be to climb a ladder or ride a bike? Because it was for my own comfort. I wasn’t prepared to see them fail, but we all know that we can’t find success without a little failure.
In a classroom setting, are we underestimating our kids? Are we sticking to our curriculum, and robbing them of the opportunity to see how far their learning can take them? What discussions are we having with them to think deeper and continue beyond the test?
In the end, we need to stop underestimating our kids. We need to give them the benefit of the doubt and see how far their minds and bodies can take them, because they may just soar. Or take off steadily on a pedal bike! You never know until you give them the opportunity to show you.