CLT Bike Camp is now in its 8th season. Over the years, the overwhelming majority of children have enjoyed our camp experience enough to return (sometimes to the point where they’ve participated in camp long enough to make it their first volunteer experience, and their first place of employment). But we’ve also, sometimes, had a child/youth who really did not enjoy their camp experience. Because of that, we wanted to offer some guidelines for parents who are making a decision on which camps are best for their children/youth.
We are a destination riding camp. Every day, we ride to destinations to have a variety of experiences outdoors. We visit splash pads and pools. We do light trail riding under supervision. We play on playgrounds, play soccer, touch football, catch. We play a variety of card games. This is an active day, often in quite warm temperatures. During storms we seek shelter. If it gets overly hot, we have a variety of cool down breaks, including finding spots in town to take a break (like the Imaginon). But the majority of the day is spent outdoors.
We try to be very interactive with children, and encourage games and play during their day at camp. We also understand that a child might want to read a book by themselves for a while, and we try to be inclusive of different types of personalities and styles. But we sometimes find the best kind of magic happens when children are allowed to “be bored.” New games are invented, imagination takes off and children learn new skills of self management.
Many of the children in our camp realize over time that they can do more than they thought they could. Often a child will take their longest ride ever with bike camp. Maybe they’ve only ridden in a small area or at a park. We ride all over the city. Most of our children are excited to learn how far they’ve gone in the week they’ve been in camp. We encourage an “I can” attitude with our campers.
We also encourage freedom within limits. Children have the freedom to have snacks and lunch when they are hungry and drink when they are thirsty (during the summer we do take specific water breaks to make sure our campers stay hydrated). We encourage them to play whatever games they want (within reason), or read if they want, or get wet if they want. Our two big rules of camp are to treat others the way you want to be treated, and to always ride with safety in mind, and consider the safety of both yourself and others.
Our camp community is a respectful, inclusive community. That doesn’t mean it is a perfect community and it doesn’t mean that children (and adults) don’t make mistakes. We encourage respect for our counselors and for one another. If a child can’t be respectful of others, this is not a good or safe environment for them. For instance, if you can’t follow safety directions on a ride, we really don’t trust that we can take you on a group ride safely. We will always model respect towards everyone in our community. That is the expectation we have for our campers as well.
Over the last few years, electronics have become a much larger part of camp than we’ve ever wanted them to be. If your child/youth needs to bring a cell phone, they need to know it’s for emergency use, not to take the place of real interaction with other people or the world around them. If your child has a smart watch, that too, is for emergency use only. Our counselors will contact you if anything happens during the day. We will always contact sooner rather than later, including if your child is having a rough day and they just can’t continue with camp.
It’s also important to have a conversation with your child prior to registering them for camp, to find out if this is what they want to do. Does your child want to ride bikes? That’s an important question to ask them. CLT Bike Camp is about active exploration of the Charlotte community. And while that sounds awesome to us, realistically, it’s not for everyone. And since we want all of our campers to have a positive experience, we recognize the importance of making sure all of our campers want to participate in such an active, lively camp.
Thank you for your time in reading through our guidelines. We hope to ride bikes with you sometime soon!
The Bike Camp Team
For several years now I’ve been helping children learn to ride bikes, and recently I’ve been wanting to sit down and write a bit of a how-to for struggling parents. I meet up with lots of parents who are at their wits end trying to teach their child how to ride a bike. I thought this might be a good time to put this out there, since a lot of children get bikes over the holidays, and they need some time and some patience to learn to ride them.
So here, I’d like to address the most basic part of learning to ride, where I start every lesson. I start with bike fit and seat height. I’d prefer a bike to be slightly too small or the right size, than have it be too large. A too large bike is difficult for a child just trying to learn how to ride, because they are going to always feel not quite comfortable on it. Seat height is part of the all important fit of the bike. When a child is just learning, they really need to be able to comfortably have both feet on the ground. Even if they are sitting on the seat. This helps children have confidence that they aren’t going to fall over (I generally see children who are very afraid of falling, and I always strive for “no fall” lessons). The final thing to check for children who are on geared bikes is that their bike is in an easier gear, so that when they try to pedal, it’s as easy as possible. Once I’ve gotten the seat to the proper height and made sure the bike is the correct size for the child to be comfortable and checked the gears, from there it is a very awkward series of different balance games designed to get a child more and more comfortable with riding. Some people take the pedals off and practiced just striding to start with. I sometimes do this with younger children but have found over time that with the 7+ set it’s a little bit of an unnecessary step. I usually start with a little demonstration while standing facing the child in front of the bike while they sit on the bike. I have them hold up both feet, while I hold the handlebars and balance the bike for them. Then I tip the bike side to side so that we can check their reflexes (a child’s natural reaction to this is to put a foot down). I like to do this first, because I like children to understand that they have the power at any moment to put a foot down and stop themselves from falling. The next step is what I call “the scooter.” The scooter is the process of using the bike like a scooter. Hands on handlebars, one foot on the ground and pushing off to move the bike forward. The other foot rests on the bottom pedal. This helps with learning to kick off as well as developing understanding of the bike/body balance, and that if you’re putting your body weight on one side, you have to counterbalance your bike. Once we do that for a while, I have the child practice pushing off and coasting. At that point I encourage children to keep their feet off the ground as much as possible as they are rolling along, and even to try to just set their feet on the pedals if they’re comfortable. Once we’ve done that for a while, I show a few different ways for starting. I usually show the power pedal method–what most people tend to do (have one foot on the high pedal push down on it while pushing off with the foot that’s on the ground), and the scooter method–which we started with, but now we’re going to follow through with the putting the other foot on the other pedal. You always have one or two who insist on the running start, getting the bike moving fast and then doing the pedal find. My last student did that, and it worked for her. So I encourage doing what is most comfortable. Once we do all of those steps, I usually just ride around next to them offering encouragement until they put it all together. Some weeks this process takes less than an hour, and sometimes it takes slightly more time. I think the big thing to remember is that the more a child can practice in an appropriate area (I like a parking lot that has a little bit of a slope, but not too much of one–it can be easier to start pedaling on a downhill), the quicker the process will go. A few years ago when I was working on learn to ride and trying to hone my skills for some of my most skeptical learners, I came across the video below which kind of puts it all together, and I’ve been working on this process every since: Learn to Ride Video
Anyway, have a great holiday season, and if you’ve got a learning rider at home, get outside and give this method a go. It’s the best and most gentle way I’ve found for children to learn the skills they need to ride bikes well. If you’d like to set up a lesson with one of our staff, feel free to email us at: email@example.com