Training Wheels

Abbie and Rachel have birthdays next month; they will be seven and eight, respectively. Last month, each reached another big milestone: the training wheels came off their bikes.

I don't know the average age at which kids typically have their training wheels removed nowadays, and I certainly don't remember how old I was. But I get the sense from informal conversations over the past couple of years that my girls are "late bloomers" in this area. Indeed, I recall a discussion with one mom who was frustrated that her son had not yet mastered the art because "he's already three-and-a-half!"

Last summer, Jeff broached the idea of shucking the training wheels, and both girls adamantly refused; when he pushed a bit, they both teared up. I sensed he worried that they were "delayed" as bikers and were maybe a bit too "baby-ish," and it concerned me a little, too. But later, after the girls had gone to bed, I encouraged him to let them tell us when they were ready. After all, I surmised, just as no child leaves home in diapers, surely none goes off into the world on training wheels! And so they happily trekked around on four wheels all last year; thankfully, if kids their age at the parks thought twice about it, they never made fun.

Interestingly, it was Abigail - the younger - who announced early this spring that she wanted the wheels off. Her friend from Sunday school apparently had them taken off and, while the other girl hadn't teased Abbie, the news that this peer had two wheels inspired Abbie to try. Rachel initially remained unconvinced, declaring no interest in "graduating." Instead, she said, she'd enjoy herself without falling down - thank you very much - while Jeff helped Abbie learn to two-wheel.

As with late potty-training, one beauty of delaying this switch was that Abbie had it down pretty flawlessly in about 20 minutes - whereas I've no doubt it would have taken a few weeks of concerted effort if we'd started when she was four. And, as you can see in this video, her new freedom filled her with joy.

When Rachel potty-trained at two-and-a-half, Abbie decided almost instantly that she could do it, too - and she did, at eighteen months. Likewise (but in reverse) with this, Rachel saw Abbie's success and almost instantly grabbed for the wrench to remove her own training wheels. And then she, too, discovered two-wheel freedom in fairly short order.

Modern homeschooling pioneers Raymond and Dorothy Moore popularized a philosophy of homeschool education that is aptly described in the title of their most well-known book: Better Late than Early. While not a formal "disciple" of their methods, I can see the beauty of what they proposed, the main thrust of which is that we ought not so much to push our children into what we as adults think is "the right time" or "the right age." Instead, we need to practice patience and self-control, letting them tell us - in either word or deed - when they are ready for a particular milestone. Since each child is uniquely created by the Lord, each will have a different timeline of growth and development; as parents, we should strive to accommodate each one's God-given abilities and temperament as much as possible.

So in hindsight, I don't regret for a minute waiting until the girls were ready for this. By waiting, we showed them that their feelings on the matter are important to us. By waiting, the accomplishment became theirs, not ours. By waiting, we allowed them to be little children that much longer - not to hinder their ultimate growth into adults, but to gift them with more time to savor being naive - in the best sense of the word.

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