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Wheel Kids Bicycle Club: Tim Hurley

April 20, 2010

From time to time, I conduct interviews with camp directors to collect advice for parents looking for special experiences for their kids. I recently exchanged emails withTim Hurleyof Wheel Kids Bicycle Club in San Francisco. Wheel Kids is a cool, new camp at Crissy Field that helps to develop the skills and passion that create life-long cyclists.

With so many camps to choose from, any tips on how to pick the right camp for your kids?

Camps provide an opportunity for kids to try new things and be exposed to activities and ideas they may not have a chance to explore during the school year. But, this has to be balanced against your child’s ability to cope with change (just like adults, some kids thrive on variety while some need consistency), as well as your willingness to break out of your own routine. The best place to start is with your deep-seated understanding of your child – what she likes, how she copes with new experiences, what’s right for her developmental level and how she may have changed since last summer. Then, ask yourself what you want for your child – not necessarily what you wish you had as a child, but what’s right for your child to help her grow into a self-confident, well rounded, self-actualized young person. Finally, decide how far your child can be challenged and how she’ll respond to that – is doing something new going to open up new windows in her life or will every day be a struggle? With this information in hand, talk with your child. Compare camps. Review websites or brochures together. If there’s a camp you think would suit her, don’t hesitate to push in that direction. But, keep an ear open for her desires. Families operate on the same principles as most other groups – through open communication, listening and compromise. Your child will spend most of the summer at one or more camps, and I’ll bet she has a pretty strong opinion about what those camps should be.

What questions should parents ask a camp?

You want to find out as much as possible about what life will be like for your child during camp. But, the details of the hour-by-hour schedule of a camp are too much for most marketing material – and, honestly, would you really want to read through all that? By starting with questions about a typical day, you’ll find out a lot about a camp’s organization, staff and philosophy. Camp directors are proud of their camps and will take every opportunity to talk about them. In fact, they’ll tell you more than you ever thought to ask if you just let them talk. Be sure to ask for specifics, though, about any issues that are of particular concern to you: whether it’s field trip transportation logistics, emergency preparedness, staff experience, what kind of snacks are provided and when or whatever you most need to know. What’s most important about the answers is how honestly they’re answered. If you feel you’re not getting a straight answer, keep asking – or keep looking.

How should parents prepare their kids for camp?

The best way to prepare for camp – or anything – is to understand your child’s expectations. Make sure you talk with him about camp to determine if he has any concerns, questions, anxieties, etc. No matter what the camp, whether it’s new to your child or the same one as last summer, it’s a new experience: new kids, new activities, new schedule. Change can be difficult, and the best way to prepare for change is to understand what’s happening and how your child feels about it. Of course, no one knows exactly what it’s going to be like – and managing that uncertainty is part of growing up. But, you can get pretty close to knowing; you can talk with the camp director, review the camp’s materials, visit the camp or attend a pre-camp event. And you can do this with your child and talk with him about what he thinks. This is an on-going process. The more he has your ear, the more he can work out how he feels about his camp experience, from the day before it starts until the day it ends.

With a biking camp, how do you ensure the safety of the kids (adhering to traffic rules, staying with the group, not engaging in risky behavior)?

A bicycle camp is a very unique camp environment. It’s a dynamic, on-the-go kind of camp that involves kids of varying degrees of riding skills, styles and desires. Wrangling these groups is the responsibility of camp staff and, to a certain degree, of the kids themselves. There are a few strategies we employ to do this. We group riders by ability, so that rides don’t get splintered into “fasts” and “slows” and “in-betweens.” When needed, we bring the speedsters to the back of the group and encourage them to appreciate the merits of cruising for a while. We stop frequently enough that we avoid long, unmanageable, stretched-out lines. We make sure the kids are empowered with leadership roles (ride leader, ride sweep), so they understand the expectations of the group and help staff monitor the progress of the ride. And we start each day with a review of the rules – just like riding a bike, learning the rules takes practice and repetition.

I was on a group ride recently, and when my turn at the front came I put the hammer down and left everyone behind. I wasn’t trying to show off – much – but was just having fun. Eventually we came to a stop, and I was encouraged to remember the group’s expectation that we’d all ride together. It was just like camp – there was enthusiasm, excitement and the shear joy of riding. But, there was also the consideration of safety, respect and the rules of the ride. Wheel Kids is focused on balancing all these things: of experiencing the joy of riding while ensuring that all riders go home safe at the end of the day.

Any last tips for parents?

My youngest daughter still talks about how bad her camp experience was when she was four years old, which was three years ago; she’s pretty good at holding a grudge. We went through a long process of choosing the camp, assuming we were doing the best thing for her and for us. In the end, it didn’t work out, so we haven’t tried that camp again. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your child won’t like her camp. It may turn out that she doesn’t like soccer or bicycling or science or art or whatever it is as much as you thought she would, at least not when it’s every day for a week or more. But, chances are there will be a few things that happen that will be memorable and positive experiences – perhaps it’s a special new friend, a terrific camp counselor, a game, etc. Kids are pretty resilient, and chances are they’re going to have many more good experiences during summer than bad. So, in the end, don’t stress too much over your camp decision. Choose one(s) that seems to be of interest to your child and that works for you financially and logistically. And if it doesn’t work out, at least in the future when you drive past that camp, you can have a good laugh about it and how you’re never ever going to go THERE again – pinky promise!

Lastly, what’s special about Wheel Kids Bicycle Club?

The best way to describe Wheel Kids is that it’s “an exploration and adventure destination for kids.” It’s a place where kids can discover many of the remarkable places that make the Bay Area so unique. How many places are there in the world, for example, that have a National Park right in the city? On top of this, we add the ability to explore these places on our bikes. My childhood was spent on my bike, to the point where it became a part of me and I couldn’t imagine going somewhere without it. Not only did I learn about the world around me, I learned how to ride well and safely, how to stay healthy, about autonomy and personal responsibility and how to take the initiative to get myself to the places I wanted to go. But, all I knew is that I was out on my bike having fun. That’s the model for Wheel Kids. We call ourselves a bicycle summer camp, but the bike is only the means to an end. The real result we’re after is for our riders to have fun, to learn some new things and to discover more about themselves.

Plus, we do a lot of really cool things. There are the weekly field trips, including a visit to the USS Hornet, riding around Angel Island, riding the velodrome in San Jose and visiting places like the Marine Mammal Center and Coyote Point museum. We have a number of guests who’ll join us and teach us more about the many opportunities to have a career in bicycling: bike racers, mechanics, frame makers, messengers, police officers and even transportation planners and architects. Finally, we’re located in a great spot on the waterfront, where there’s so much to do and see that we’ll never run out of fun!

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