What is our most powerful sense? Not vision, but something called proprioception, our sense of our body in space; it involves our sense of balance, location, and movement.
Granted, vision informs this sense, but so do the operations of the inner ear and the sense of touch. Like any sense, we develop our sense of balance and co-ordination during our childhood. Babies are as weak and clumsy as returned astronauts. We teach them to walk by holding them up by their powerful little fingers and soon they begin to navigate the edges of furniture, the walls of the room. Before they can walk they are already running to our arms‚ÄĒthey‚Äôve learned how to fly on two legs. By six or seven years of age they may have already put this lesson into practice making a bicycle ‚Äėgo.‚Äô What a thrill it is for children to propel themselves: to run, chase, dance, skip, ride. The child in motion is a well-educated child. We learn best those things that integrate our bodies with our minds and excite us.
I have the great fortune this spring to be facilitating Pedal Power, a bicycle-themed family literacy project sponsored by the Colchester Adult Learning Association. Beginning in January, participating families have been meeting at the Truro Farmers‚Äô Market to learn basic bicycle repair and maintenance and learn a little about the culture and heritage of cycling as well. We fix up mom‚Äôs bike that hasn‚Äôt been ridden for two years because it has two flats and a seized cable. We get out the steel wool and bust the rust on that kid‚Äôs bike that was left out for the winter; we grease the bearings, clean and lube the chain, adjust brakes and gears. Hands and arms get greasy. Knuckles are scraped. When better weather comes we will go out riding, learning how to ride respectfully, predictably, and confidently on trails and streets.
Pedal Power is about getting parents and kids learning together and doing together‚ÄĒit‚Äôs also about discovering the fun and independence of active transportation. Kids don‚Äôt want to be chauffeured around‚ÄĒthey want to be independent. It‚Äôs our job as adults to make sure they have the skills they need to navigate their world safely as they move toward independence. It‚Äôs also our job to create communities that are pedestrian and bike friendly. And there‚Äôs an opportunity of being an example: Are the kids as healthy as they should be? Do they spend enough time in nature? Have they forgotten how to play without a coach and a referee? Do we?
My neighbour on Lyman Street remembers past days when nearly everyone in town walked to work. In the summer he tells me, the workers at the hat factory would have their lunches out in Victoria Square. No amount of civic boosting can accomplish something as perfect and civil as a spontaneous group picnic. Thankfully, Truro retains a lot of this old-time charm. Many kids still do walk to school, cyclists are accommodated on our streets, the odd picnic still breaks out from time-to-time. We could do better. We could have more feet, more eyes on the street; if we did it would be safer for everyone‚ÄĒincluding kids. Studies have shown that when the number of cyclists increase in a city, accident rates go down for everyone‚ÄĒcyclists and motorists. Of course regular exercise also improves our mental and physical well-being. We integrate our bodies and minds as we explore the space around us.
Another related initiative this spring is surveying residents of Truro and Colchester County asking, ‚ÄúHow do you get around: Is it working for you?‚ÄĚ Most of us are driving a lot of the time. Is there room in our daily routine for active transportation alternatives? What barriers are keeping us from the enjoyment of independence and vitality we felt as wobbly toddlers, careening pre-schoolers, and fleet-footed grade-schoolers? Fortunately, we have everything we need to exercise our most basic sense and it is so much a part of us we may take it for granted. When you think about it, there‚Äôs not that much happening when we‚Äôre staring at a screen, sitting in a chair. Driving a car is also pretty ho-hum‚ÄĒbut try riding in the booster seat staring at the seatback: boring! Perhaps you‚Äôve noticed that the thrill is gone. It could be that‚Äôs where it went. There‚Äôs an easy fix. Walk or bike to the store, to the barn, to the river‚ÄĒevery moment, every movement, is an exploration of our greatest gift. You‚Äôre a child again.
To find out about enrolling in Pedal Power, call Colchester Adult Learning Association at 895-2464.
To learn about the County of Colchester/Town of Truro, How do you get around; Is it working for you? survey and campaign go to http://www.whatgetsyouplaces.ca
David Boehm is the facilitator of Pedal Power, a bicycle-themed family literacy project sponsored by the Colchester Adult Learning Association. He is a resident of Truro.