Providing youth with life skills using the bicycle as a tool
The skills we teach in our programs go beyond the ability to fix a puncture or degrease and lubricate the chain. We provide important lessons and skills in both character and bike mechanics.
Research suggests that the reason youth development programs improve school performance is because of the way children engage with these programs. According to some studies, the motivation and concentration levels of young people is much higher in informal youth programs than they are in school. Once children learn how to focus and direct their own learning in one context, such as in the 10 weeks they spend in our workshops surrounded by tools and bike parts, they are more likely to apply this same level of attention in the classroom. With the exception of our Beltline Bike Club, our Earn-a-Bike programs are mostly run with the support of teachers and educators, in the school environment. By working in this context, we can collaborate with schools to further help encourage academic achievement. Other studies have shown that outdoor learning programs, such as our bike trips, increase academic achievement in school, particularly in subjects related to science, technology and math. It is suggested that making learning fun in other settings and showing them how their school lessons apply in the real world improves a child’s engagement with learning in school.
Future employment skills
Preparing young people for their futures is the goal of all youth development programs and education. An important part of this preparation is helping youth transition from students achieving in school to adults with employment opportunities. Giving children the chance to explore personalities, interests and opportunities can help them consider who and what they want to be “when they grow up.” For some youth, we are their first connection to the community outside of the home and school; which means we have a responsibility for helping them navigate that change in perspective. One of the biggest challenges facing young people trying to enter the job market is experience. Two Wheel View helps address this barrier by not only providing internship opportunities for university students in our office and workshop, we also help facilitate opportunities with our partner organizations.
Studies show that healthy habits develop at any early age and once formed, are very hard to change. Forming healthy habits while young is therefore a preventative measure that encourages healthy decision-making throughout the rest of your life. Our programs encourage healthy habits in many ways. We provide snacks every program, but our approach to food is balanced – we offer both healthy snacks and special treats so kids learn about nutritional balance and how to make good choices. For Bike Clubs, we use active games as much as we can within the program space. And of course, we also encourage physical fitness through biking, especially on our trips, where many young people exceed their own expectations for what they can achieve physically. This year, we incorporated a bicycle related stretching program to ensure safety from injury, created by Brooklyn, one of our facilitators who is working on her degree in physical literacy.
Having critical thinking skills improves young people’s ability to evaluate situations and decide whether someone’s behaviours and opinions are right, fair and just. Armed with this knowledge, young people are more capable of assessing media messages, making judgements about the information they encounter and being a wise consumer. Being able to think critically about a given situation helps young people to make better decisions, which improves performance and outcomes, as well as self-confidence. We teach critical thinking skills by giving the kids opportunities to fix one or two bikes that are going to go into the community outside the program. They need to assess what is wrong with the bikes, decide how can they fix them, think about what parts need to be replaced and what parts need to be ordered, etc. This gives young people the opportunity to think about problems and the consequences of their actions.
One of the most important skills a young person can learn is to evaluate their current situation, aspire to something greater and take the initiative to get there. This involves a combination of critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving, as well as action. A young person with the knowledge of how to set and work towards realistic goals has the components for self-determination and can change their world in meaningful ways. We promote goal setting by working with each group to talk about what they want to achieve and what they want to gain out of their experiences – there is a goal setting element at the beginning of all our programs. Completion of the Bike Club program allows young people to earn a bike and completion of a bike trip allows them to get to their destination, but the young people often have smaller goals along the way.
It is important to develop leadership skills in young people, not only for their own success in life, but also because they are our next generation of business, political and community leaders. Helping them develop attributes of leadership such as resilience, confidence and courage means that we are working towards a better future for all of us. The world is constantly changing and the difficulties our youth will face are increasingly foreign to older generations. Therefore, we need to prepare young people to cope with challenges we cannot even predict yet and developing leadership skills gives our children the best chance to successfully navigate the future. At TWV, we encourage youth to take ownership of their experience, planning things like the activities involved, what food they want to have and what the graduation ceremony will look like. In this way, the young people have the chance to lead their peers; a lot of them have never had the opportunity to contribute in this way before. We also try to have different people every week who lead the opening circle – who answer the questions first. As time goes on, the young people grow and some kids who, in the first few weeks, would never raise their hands end up being the ones who want to be the first to lead.
It is no secret that our environment is at risk; as humans we have put significant pressure on our planet and its resources. In many cases, the consequences of our activity are yet unknown, but it is widely accepted that environmental stewardship is increasingly important. At TWV, we encourage environmental awareness by practicing a ‘leave no trace’ ethic, using reusable containers/cutlery/tools and by teaching the young people to leave each space better (cleaner and greener) than we found it, particularly at campsites during bike trips.
The young people in our programs learn about more than just drive trains, pedals and cassettes. They learn valuable life skills that they take away from our program and back into their homes, schools and communities. By consciously making programming decisions that allow for wider learning, we support the positive changes that help young people grow into successful adults.
 National Collaboration for Youth. (2011). The Impact of Youth Development Programs on Student Academic Achievement. https://www.nationalassembly.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/schoolsuccessbrief.pdf. Retrieved September 29, 2018.
 Friends of Outdoor School. (2015). Empirical Evidence Supporting Benefits of Outdoor School & Experiential Learning Programs. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a6b8d4dcf81e05944ab3c76/t/5ad8d9332b6a28ed077cb308/1524160821020/Empirical+Evidence+Supporting+Benefits+of+Outdoor+School+and+Experiential+Learning+Programs_March+2015.pdf. Retrieved September 29, 2018.
 Plante, T. (2012). Health habits develop early and are hard to change. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/do-the-right-thing/201205/health-habits-develop-early-and-are-hard-change. Retrieved September 29, 2018.