Recumbent Dhane


I have now worked as an English teacher for more than 17 years, lived in Asia more than 22 years,  and have taught at the kindergarten level for 8 years. While teaching in Thailand I founded an orphanage for Burmese refugee children and my love for cycling with kids began then. I cycled prior to then and after but my cycle trips across the countryside of Thailand with Burmese kids of all ages on bicycles was the first time I realized how much learning happens through experience outside of the classroom. Learning to ride a bicycle itself is one such learning experience that empowers children to explore the natural world around them. It is also an opportunity to learn responsibility,  safety and get a first taste of independence.

 For Golden Apple students on bicycles with training wheels for the first time it is a chance to roll up to the school entrance gate with a guardian tagging along behind. When I lock up my own bicycle near the school gate I often count a dozen or more little versions of bicycles in the parking lot. I remember when I was the same age – before I entered the first grade – I wasn’t lucky enough to go to kindergarten. I was lucky enough,  though,  to have my own tricycle and my own little red wagon. I remember the first time I crashed that wagon – there are no brakes on a wagon and my left side was encrusted with gravel that my mom had to pick gingerly out of my little hide. Life is easier for Golden Apple kids but the sense of freedom one gets from moving around under one’s own power and control is just the same – no matter the age.

 I am a lot older,  fatter and slower nowadays. I have graduated to an adult-sized tricycle – technically,  a recumbent tadpole but a tricycle nonetheless by definition (it has 3 wheels).  I lost my red wagon but now can pull along a yellow trailer behind my trike. I have added a child’s seat to the rear rack and bought a child’s safety helmet. Gone are the crashes of my youth and I can now ride along with a little back seat driver. It gives a child a chance to practice their ‘commands’ in English. Stop,  go,  faster,  slower,  go left,  go right – I can imagine what the little driver behind me can order. It is also a good chance to talk about bicycles in general and develop a vocabulary – parts of the cycle (wheel,  brake,  tire,  etc.),  transportation (types of vehicle, ride, drive, etc.),  and adjectives to describe it,  including colors,  size, etc.

 Cycling with children outside of the classroom is the ultimate payoff,  of course. After they have learned a few basic safety skills – how to look both ways when crossing a road,  how to look out for pedestrians on the sidewalk,  how to use the bell or horn,  how to steer and brake the cycle – they are ready to enjoy a ride in a park or other natural setting. The learning that goes on then can be open-ended. A teacher can lead a group of students,  have a picnic,  play and explore by a pond,  find frogs,  bugs,  and flowers. All of these are new experiences encountered first hand and not in the artificial learning environment provided by a school. True,  school is still a convenient situation for managing children’s learning experiences but there comes a time (close to graduation from kindergarten or in the setting of an extracurricular class) when the ‘real thing’ can be met for inspiration and ‘hands  on’ education.

 I remember with great fondness the times I explored irrigation ponds with Burmese children – learning how to swim,  catching fresh water mussels and snails,  cooking mud crabs,  catching fish,  and generally having a fantastic time learning by doing in a natural setting. With a little guidance from guardians nearby and nature itself the sky is the limit for learning experiences. It was only a couple hundred years ago that most children were taught in this fashion. Although the big city is a different environment,  Chengdu as a garden city still offers a lot of opportunities in its parks,  river walks,  green belts,  and cycle paths meandering through the countryside for students to enjoy new challenges that will open their horizons. So,  tally ho,  young cyclists. Come and join us on a ride outside this summer.

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