WALDORF, Md. – You crawl before you walk, walk before you run, glide before you pedal. Kindergarten students at William A. Diggs and William B. Wade elementary schools are learning to ride bikes through an eight-week All Kids Bike program during physical education class. And there’s not a training wheel in sight. Instead, students use balance bikes, a two-wheel bike with no pedals. Designed to teach balance, the bikes are powered by the child using their feet to advance. Once they gain a bit of speed, they lift their feet and glide. If they can glide for a while without falling, pedals can be put on the bike and the kids never look back.
“If you think about riding a bike, the hardest part is just holding it up and not falling side to side,” Kellee Shoemaker, PE teacher at Wade, said. Each student goes at their own pace. “Some students may stay on the balance bike for all eight weeks, some get pedals after a few classes,” she said.
“Learning how to ride a bike provides an opportunity to implement skills such as balance, speed and pathways in a different but highly effective way,” Matt Golonka, content specialist for health and physical education, said. “Teaching the skill of bike riding, while teaching the necessary safety precautions along with it, will set our students up for success as they grow older.”
The program, which is overseen by Strider Bikes, is at schools in all 50 states — five of which are in Maryland, according to information provided by All Kids Bike. The All Kids Bike program is brought to schools through a fundraiser. The program — which comes with child-size balance bikes and helmets, pedal conversion kits, a balance bike and helmet for the teacher, along with lesson plans for eight weeks and support from All Kids Bike for five years — is $5,000.
When Shoemaker pitched the All Kids Bike program to Golonka and how the curriculum is tied to national and Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) PE standards, he was able to purchase two sets of equipment through grant funding for his department. Shoemaker and Alyssa Wheeler, PE teacher at Diggs, assisted in the grant rewriting process. Diggs and Wade are piloting the program and keeping data on the students’ progress. “Once we see success, hopefully more programs can be put in place at other schools,” Shoemaker said.
As easy as riding a bike
Skills learned through bike riding build confidence and foster a sense of independence. The experience can also be a humbling one. Students might think they know how to ride a bike but quickly realize they must focus. “It gives them confidence when they see they are getting better at something,” Shoemaker said. “I think students like to have something to work for.”
Robert Crowley, a Wade fourth-grade teacher and parent of a child in kindergarten at the school, said his son rides bikes for fun at home and has a good time riding with his friends in PE. “I think it’s important for kids to learn how to ride a bike, so they have a different way to exercise,” Crowley said. “Having a variety of ways to stay healthy keeps us motivated to stay fit.”
He also likes knowing that young students are learning to ride a bike safely. “Not many kids around here can ride a bike safely without worrying about the cars driving by,” Crowley said.
Safety is paramount in the All Kids Bike curriculum. Each class starts with the proper way to wear a helmet. Then kids grab a bike — one with pedals if they know how to ride, or one without if they are still working on their balance while gliding. They know to keep their eyes up to watch ahead of them, and that everyone goes at their own pace. Don’t get frustrated if you fall off. You just get back up. Don’t get upset if a friend gets pedals and you don’t. Your day will come. Just keep practicing. A lesson can be simply gliding around the gym in a circle, weaving in and out of cones or other obstacle course-like activities. All the while, the teacher is watching to see who might be ready to get pedals.
During a recent class, Shoemaker called out to Hannah Powell, a kindergartener in Kelly Carlson’s class at Wade. “I think you’re ready to try pedals,” Shoemaker said. Powell traded her balance bike with K.J. Barry who rides dirt bikes afterschool and has been on pedals almost from Day 1. Balancing on the bike, Powell tentatively pedaled with Shoemaker letting go of the seat on the count of three. Within a minute, Powell was zipping around the gym, cheered on by instructional assistant Mylia Poole and the class.
“Riding a bike builds skills like balance,” Wheeler said. “But it also gives students confidence and a sense of independence and determination.”