The Value of Playing With Bikes

It was pretty tough to be bored when I was a kid as long as I had my bicycle because my bike was often not a bike.  When I donned my cowboy hat, fashioned some bridal reins out of a piece of rope and attached it to my handlebars, my bike became a horse.  My sister and I galloped our horses across the prairie all morning and paid visits to our neighbors.  Around high noon, we turned our steeds homeward for some lunch. 
If some of the neighborhood kids joined us in the afternoon, we became pioneers and formed a bicycle wagon train to journey westward to a new homeland.  Along the way, we’d gather our wagons in a circle to protect us from outlaws, cougars, and other unseen danger.
Sometimes my sister and I used our bikes to help us construct a kids-only clubhouse.  Our bikes formed two parallel walls that we draped with an old quilt.  We spent hours playing games, coloring, reading, and—on more than one occasion—fighting in our clubhouse.
There were times when we used our bike props with disastrous results.  I still recall the day my sister, the kid next door and I used a bicycle to assist us in climbing a tree.  With my sister steadying the bike, the neighbor kid and I managed to reach the first limb of the tree.  Lacking a spotter, my sister’s attempt to climb the tree led to a fall and a broken collarbone.
Fortunately, most of my bike adventures turned out just fine.  With a bike and a little creative thinking, I kept myself occupied and happy.  And this made my mom happy too because we weren’t in the house and under foot all the time.
I am pleased to report that in this age of smart phones, DVDs and over organized recreation, the creative art of bike play survives.  I’ve watched my neighbors’ children hold a bike jousting tournament in the alley, tow each other down a snowy street on sleds and saucers, and build a clubhouse similar to the one I built in my childhood.  And yes, they also just pedal around the neighborhood for fun.
These kids are playing creatively and actively on their own.  They are learning how to be resourceful, set their own rules, interact with each other, and structure their own play time.  Those are some pretty handy skills to develop with the aid of a friend/sibling, a couple of bikes and a few low-tech props.
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