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Prime Time/Teachable moments: take off those training wheels

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The pop-up camper is opened and airing in the yard, ready for our first camping outing of the season. It's stocked with some basics and ready to be collapsed and hooked up to the truck. Our two bikes will ride in the back of the pickup, much simpler than when we used to struggle to fit four bikes onto a carrier.

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I think back to our first camping experience with the kids and their bikes. It was Memorial Day weekend at Itasca State Park about 15 years ago. Jessica's bike was pink with streamers from the handlebars and plastic training wheels attached to the back wheel. A flowered plastic basket was strapped to the handlebars.

It was the first weekend in June and Jessy had wanted the training wheels removed from her bicycle. We'd been through this once before, but that was before the weekend of camping and biking at Itasca State Park - the weekend that put close to 20 miles on those training wheels.

Jessica biked around and around the campground, trying to keep up with big brother Eric. She biked along the bike trails with us, those training wheels rattling all the way. There were two or three other kids in the campground whose bikes had training wheels, but they were not the fastest, coolest kids. Jessy wanted to be one of the big kids without the training wheels.

As we biked along the trails, I noticed that at times, Jessica balanced on the two big wheels perfectly, the training wheels just above the trail's surface, not touching the ground with their noisy scratch.

"Listen, Jessica," I told her. "You're really riding when your training wheels aren't making any noise."

For the rest of the afternoon and weekend, Jessica was focused on the sound, and whenever she didn't hear the grating grind of the plastic training wheels, she'd yell to me exuberantly, "Mom, I'm really riding!"

A week later the training wheels were off - this time for good. Jessica never faltered. She pushed off and rode like a pro along the driveway, in circles on the garage apron, down the walk and around and back.

Pure learning

Getting rid of the training wheels was the first of many steps Jessica took as she continued to learn and grow. The bicycle scenario typifies an ideal learning situation - complete with a motivated learner, positive examples, encouragement, suggestions, opportunities to practice, constructive feedback, trial and error, guidance and reinforcement and, eventually, independent application.

These are things we hope happen daily in a classroom during the school year, but these are also things we can provide for our children daily after the school day is over and in that lovely interim between school years - summer vacation.

Teachers and parents provide opportunities to learn. We expose children to new information, new ideas, new tasks. We provide them with opportunities to practice. If we want them to learn and to become independent thinkers and doers, we must guide them, offer suggestions and encouragement, give them feedback and reinforcement, but eventually we've got to stand back and let them ride.

Through practice, they learn. Once they've gained some confidence, they can free themselves of our assistance and perform the task or understand and apply the concept independently. And, they can transfer that learning to new experiences, new learning.

Summer is here, school is out, and children are away from the daily classroom routine, but learning doesn't have to stop. The more relaxed days of summer are not void of learning. Home, daycare, and summer activities are full of opportunities. Family outings, walks along the lake, camping trips, reading time, everyday activities -- all provide opportunities for children to learn new things throughout the summer. Our task as parents - and as our children's primary teachers - is to guide, to point out the nest in the shrub outside the front door, to read to them, to play counting games, to provide opportunities to observe and to learn.

The training wheels came off. Jessica was on her way. She pedaled furiously, she balanced well, and she even remembered to use her brakes occasionally. It was a memorable summer -- like the summer several years later when she learned to drive a car, and the summer a few years after that when she was preparing to go off to college. My job as her teacher is much different now. (She knows more about many things than I do.) But we still love to learn together, notice what's around us, look things up when we don't know the answer, share interesting news bits with one another and our observations about them.

Teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin - each equally rewarding and exciting. Both are life-long activities. Enjoy the summer, and never stop learning.

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