Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pedalheads Bike Camps - The Inside Scoop

My son just finished a week of intensive bike camp through Pedalheads in Calgary.  We did our camp out of the Wildwood location which was the closest location to our house with space for early July.  For more background information on the Pedalheads bike camps, visit the story that I wrote last month:  Pedalheads Bike Camps - From Training Wheels to Trails.  

Noah learning to start on his bike - something he had rocked by the end of the week!


Noah spent 12.5 hours at the week-long intensive bike camp and honestly, after the first day I thought it was going to be too much for a 4 year old.  I wondered why the classes were the same length for a preschooler as they were for a school-aged child, and why such a young child would have to come every day for classes when his regular preschool class had only been 3 days a week.  I also worried about leaving Noah with teachers that looked young enough to still live at home, and that didn't completely inspire confidence should he need help with using the bathroom, should he crash and need consoling, or should he get injured on his bike.  

By the end of the second day though, I realized that most of my fears had been just that - fears, and that Noah was in good hands.  There were lots of teachers floating around to help out in the event of an emergency bathroom break (or God forbid - a real emergency), the teachers were a lot of fun and very enthusiastic about their job, and Noah was learning a LOT!  Good gosh, did he learn a lot in one short week!  And while I still think that perhaps 2.5 hours per day is a tad much for a 4 year old, it was my choice to enroll him in something so intense.  It was my choice to push him to excellence beyond that of the average  preschooler on a bike.  And it was my determination that we would do whatever it took so that he would learn to ride his fancy new Spawn Cycles pedal bike!!  After all, what's the point of having a nice bike if you can't ride it?  I certainly wasn't buying training wheels to go with it!

Noah was registered in level 2- Advanced Newbees.  Since he was not using training wheels and had already reached the point of riding independently with Daddy running alongside, he didn't need to start in the total Newbee level which focuses on starting and stopping with assistance.  Noah was already at that point thanks to my husband's enthusiasm to take him out on long rides every night.  He needed to learn to do that on his own now so that we can all ride together.

A typical afternoon at Pedalheads - everybody learning how to stop, pedal, and stop

 

Our Pedalhead goals for Noah as summarized from my first story were the following:





  • We want help with teaching Noah to brake, steer, pedal, start and stop.  The basics really.
  • We want Noah to gain confidence in his biking so that he can join his friends on our outdoor playgroup rides, using his pedal bike.
  • We want to be able to ride together as a family with all three of us on a bike by the end of the summer.
  • We want to bike on the paved pathways in Calgary together this summer and we want Noah to understand the rules associated with sharing a path, yielding to pedestrians, and avoiding collisions.
  • - See more at: http://www.rockiesfamilyadventures.com/2013/06/pedalheads-bike-camps-from-training.html#sthash.VqPt6tWD.dpuf



  • We want help with teaching Noah to brake, steer, pedal, start and stop.  The basics really.
  • We want Noah to gain confidence in his biking so that he can join his friends on our outdoor playgroup rides, using his pedal bike.
  • We want to be able to ride together as a family with all three of us on a bike by the end of the summer.
  • We want to bike on the paved pathways in Calgary together this summer and we want Noah to understand the rules associated with sharing a path, yielding to pedestrians, and avoiding collisions.
  • - See more at: http://www.rockiesfamilyadventures.com/2013/06/pedalheads-bike-camps-from-training.html#sthash.VqPt6tWD.dpuf



  • We want help with teaching Noah to brake, steer, pedal, start and stop.  The basics really.
  • We want Noah to gain confidence in his biking so that he can join his friends on our outdoor playgroup rides, using his pedal bike.
  • We want to be able to ride together as a family with all three of us on a bike by the end of the summer.
  • We want to bike on the paved pathways in Calgary together this summer and we want Noah to understand the rules associated with sharing a path, yielding to pedestrians, and avoiding collisions.
  • - See more at: http://www.rockiesfamilyadventures.com/2013/06/pedalheads-bike-camps-from-training.html#sthash.VqPt6tWD.dpuf
    • We wanted help with teaching Noah to brake, steer, pedal, start and stop.  The basics really.
    • We wanted Noah to gain confidence in his biking so that he can join his friends on our outdoor playgroup rides, using his pedal bike.
    • We wanted to make progress in our goal to be able to ride together as a family with all three of us on a bike by the end of the summer.
    • We wanted Noah to learn skills towards being able to bike on the paved pathways in Calgary this summer (understanding the rules associated with sharing a path, yielding to pedestrians, and avoiding collisions.)
     
    Working on steering by riding circles together

     

    Where was Noah before his week at Pedalheads:  

     

    • We were trying to encourage him to use his brakes but it was a slow process.
    • Steering was ALL OVER the place.
    • Pedaling was pretty weak to be honest.  Noah couldn't power his way up the smallest of hills. He came off a balance bike so had never had to learn to pedal before.
    • Starting by himself - what's that?  (Seriously, we had to hold onto the handle bars until Noah had his feet on the pedals and then give him a gentle push while holding on for the first half a minute or so.)
    • Stopping by himself - again, we did that for Noah.  We'd run alongside and grab him by the neck to stop him on big hills or before he hit somebody.  He most definitely was NOT stopping on his own or even putting his feet down to stop really.
    • He couldn't bike with friends.  He would get too distracted and upset if somebody was faster, better, or more competent than him.
    • We went for family bike rides in the evenings but that involved my husband running alongside Noah and me perhaps riding my bike - Noah screaming at me if I went ahead of him.  (yet honestly, I couldn't ride slowly enough to stay behind.)

    Riding around the parking lot together to work on confidence riding with friends

     

    Where is Noah now after a week of Pedalheads:

    • Noah will use his brakes if we remind him.  He definitely knows how to use them though and he is also able to put his feet down to stop himself.  (His teacher was able to show him that his pedal bike is very similar to his balance bike and he can use his feet on the ground to stop, start, and move his bike when need be.)
    • Steering is MUCH better.  While sidewalks are still challenging, Noah can bike in a circle around a central focal point and steer as he goes.
    • Noah is now able to pedal up small hills, has improved strength, and is a LOT better at pedalling in general.  Much improvement in this area!  (My husband sees it the most because he takes Noah on the same loop every night and he has to push less and less each time.)
    • Noah is perfectly capable of starting on his own now.  He knows how to push with one foot (like you would do on a scooter) until he gets up to momentum.  He can then put both feet on the pedals and ride off with no help at all.  It's pretty freakin' amazing really!  (One proud mama here for sure!!)
    • Stopping still needs work but that comes with braking.  Noah tends to put his feet down a bit too much but I'll take that over not stopping at all!  At least he's trying to be safe and puts his feet down if he thinks he's going too fast.  Before Pedalheads the idea that he could put his feet down hadn't even crossed his mind.
    • I believe Noah would be able to bike with friends now.  I saw him riding around with the other kids at Pedalheads and they rode circles together without collisions.  Yay.
    • My husband is still running when he takes Noah for rides but that's partially his own choice.  He likes running.  I believe I could take Noah for a flat, easy pathway ride on my bike and I feel it would go well.  I'd be nervous in hills but on flat terrain, I think Noah would do fine with me on my own bike.  We will try it out soon.  



    The kids did lots of riding in a skating rink - great idea!


     

    So, was Pedalheads a success for us?!  Definitely!! 

     

    Factors to take into consideration before signing your child up for Pedalheads:


    One - It is very intensive at 2.5 hours per day and lasting a full week.  While this worked for my child (for a week anyway), I don't know if it would work for every preschool child.  I would personally love to see Pedalheads offer a shortened day for children under 5 or an option to only go 3 times per week spread out over two weeks.  Yes, this would be a bigger time commitment but kids would have more time to practice on the off-days.  It was hard to go out in the evening to practice after already spending 2.5 hours at camp.

    Two - The teachers are young.  They were enthusiastic and a lot of fun but children with special needs or more challenging personalities would perhaps do better with a more seasoned teacher.  I'm sure school-aged kids would have few problems and most preschoolers would also be fine, but a younger child without previous preschool experience might struggle with the combination of long classes and young teachers.  In the end, you know your child best.  Noah had finished a full year of preschool so I knew he would be fine. 

    Three - Class sizes can vary.  We were lucky in that Noah was placed in a small class.  Had his class have been any larger though, it would have been a challenge for the teacher to give enough individualized attention to each student - something that is definitely required with preschoolers learning to ride a bike! Even in his small class, I witnessed times where Noah was just aimlessly wandering around and not engaged in an activity or task.  Hard to avoid but it would have been worse in a bigger class.

    Four - Classes take place outside and  there's no guarantee of sunny weather.  While the teachers do try to occupy the kids inside for stretches on rainy days, you should be prepared for your child to be outside riding his or her bike rain or shine!  If your child is a fair-weather kid, this is something to consider.

    I challenged the teacher to introduce Noah to standing on his pedals - she accepted the challenge.

    What other families are saying about Pedalheads:


     Class Size
      
    "I would have preferred smaller classes, or wish that they had a few more 'floating staff' to deal with kids that had to go to the washroom, didn't want to participate, were feeling unwell etc." - Suzanne

    "My daughter's small group was ok although there were a few kids who held the others back at times. I think 4-5 kids is max at level 3." - Jen
     

     Levels and Instruction

    " My son was a strong rider going into this camp. He was on a balance bike first, then transitioned to his pedal bike about a year ago.  I feel like perhaps, I am not really their target audience.  I think maybe they are looking for parents who have taken the traditional training wheel method of learning how to bike, and for families that don't get out to do a lot of biking.  That wasn't us.  I wanted my son to learn some new skills like maybe going off curbs, or doing more obstacle courses (perhaps off road style).  He was quite happy to go, and enjoyed it overall, but as soon as he got bored, he just did his own thing.  I felt this should have been a red flag to switch activities!  I feel that there will be a lot of young kids who are ready for a greater challenge at age 3 and 4 and I think with the prevalence of run bikes and 3 and 4 year old kids kicking ass on pedal bikes, that they will need to tailor some of their programming to fit that market.  I don't have a good solution, but I think it is quite difficult to put strong 4 year old riders in with weak 6 year old riders.  2 different skill levels, 2 different maturity levels." - Suzanne


    Teachers

    "The instructor was good, but lacked the confidence to make a decision!  On the thursday, they waited around 30 minutes for a participant to show up before going on their 'big ride'.  Of course she didn't.  Then there was one ring of thunder, so they called off the ride after 45 minutes or so of standing around figuring out what to do." - Suzanne

    "teachers were young and at times disorganized.  Their supervisor seemed a little unsure of what to do at times when she needed to make decisions." - Jen

    "We had great teachers both times. I found them respectful and encouraging, they never pushed the kids and just made it fun which is what I wanted. I liked that they listened to the kids and would let them pick some of the games and activities. On our last day it was pouring but my son insisted on going. We decided we wouldn't stay if they had to be inside because it wouldn't really be worth it so he asked his instructor if they were going to be in or out and he asked my son what he wanted to do, he said out so the instructor said if he wanted to go he'd take him, only 2 kids showed up from his group and most of the other kids stayed inside but he actually took the two out in the rain which my son was thrilled about. They were totally drenched when I picked him up, I thought that was pretty awesome!" - Heather

    "Last year, my daughter had an excellent instructor for Level 1 and there were 4 kids in the class. I watched a good portion of each class and was happy with the teacher/child ratio.  This year, her instructor was not as good. Not even remotely on the same playing field. There were 4 or 5 kids in the class. From the parking lot where I was with my younger daughter in the Riding Rookies class, I watched my older daughter sitting stationary on her bike waiting for help for over 30 minutes. When I went to pick her up, her helmet was on - but the chinstrap was not done up - on 2 separate days. " - Laura

    "They definitely vary. Level 1 was good. Level 2 was not good. Our instructor for Riding Rookies was completely wrong for the class.  The Level 1 instructor was enthusiastic and could attend to all 4 children at once. It was obvious that she liked working with young children and that she had done so before.  The Level 2 instructor was not enthusiastic at all and could only attend to one child at a time, which I personally witnessed each day.  The instructor for Riding Rookies had absolutely no idea how to relate to 2-yr-olds. That class was a mess." - Laura


     
     What did your child take away from Pedalheads

    "Agility, off roading, and road safety." - Jen, level 3

    "Some road safety stuff and biking with one hand.  I haven't seen my son use a hand signal yet!  But he is pretty proud that he can wave to us." - Suzanne, level 3 

    "Since my son had just gotten off of training wheels, he gained a lot of confidence." - Heather, level 2

    "They did all the road safety rules, I think my son remembers most of it, he teaches me the hand signals when we go for a bike ride then checks my tires and lets me know they need air. I think he's pretty confident with that too. They also used the teeter totter which he loved so that has encouraged him to want to do more tricks."  - Heather, level 3 

    "We bought a pedal bike the day before the first Pedalheads class. The teacher took the training wheels off on the first day and my daughter never looked back. We were amazed! She rode without training wheels until the snow came." - Laura, level 1

    "I'm very happy with my daughter's progress. She is a superstar bike rider now. When we tried to instruct her earlier this Spring, she tended to whine and not put a lot of effort into riding, despite knowing that she was able to ride the previous Fall. The same type of behavior has been exhibited when we tried to teach her to swim and to ski.......she just excels with an instructor." - Laura, level 2
     

    Overall Opinion

    "I totally think it was beneficial. I wouldn't say my son really  learned a ton of new skills that we couldn't have taught him at home but the benefits for him were riding his bike for 2.5 hours every night without worrying about cars(and actually going somewhere, our small cul de sac gets boring after a while), having fun with the kids and teachers, going new places without me so that he can lead us on a bike ride, doing a class that he actually enjoyed, encouraging him to have more interest in a sport and again confidence. Overall he loved it, he was happy all week so that is all I am really hoping for in a camp." - Heather

    "I think that my daughter tends to excel in these group classes because she sees the other kids learning along beside her and, in turn, learns from them. She really watches others. She gets excited when she sees other kids excelling and that fuels her. I think that Pedalheads generally provides a safe, fun and encouraging environment for kids to build confidence in their bike riding skills. " - Laura 

     
    One of the student's in Noah's class - no training wheels after the first day

     

    And My Overall Opinion
    Noah gained a boat load of experience and confidence in the course of the week.  He had a 2.5 hour nap the first day after class, and was pretty beat by Friday afternoon.  He asked a couple times to just stay home, perhaps overwhelmed by the intense week, but he also said that he wanted to go every day forever and was sad that camp was over.  I could never have taught him everything he learned in Pedalheads in one week in such a short amount of time.  We were lucky and had a great teacher, good class size, and a positive experience.  We also had 4 days of good weather so that was a plus!  The teachers were good at making sure the kids had snacks, water, and rest breaks in the shade too which was great because it was scorching hot most of the week.  I can definitely see us enrolling in Pedalheads again in the future when Noah is perhaps a  bit older and needs to learn how to use gears or do road biking.  For now we will continue to ride as a family and focus on pathway riding.  

    My confident bike rider! 




    2 comments:

    1. Kids are enjoying biking :) This is a fun-filled and exciting way to give your kids confidence.

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    2. Please note that Pedalheads is not the best choice for learning road safety. They teach 6 year olds to ride next to the curb, which is the absolute most dangerous place for kids to be. Their instructors *are* young and are NOT trained in safe road cycling (they have first aid certification but no bike training). If you want to teach your kids how to ride safely on the road, track down your local CAN-BIKE Instructor and get it done with standardized curriculum. In Calgary, the only company to offer Kids CAN-BIKE is Safer Cycling Calgary. http://www.SaferCyclingCalgary.ca

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