A Beautiful Day for a Fall Bike Ride!
The annual bike trip to Princeton is a rite of passage for Princeton Montessori Middle School students. For weeks leading up to the event, there is an excited hum of discussion as they plan where they’ll eat, what shops to visit, which souvenirs to carefully select for their younger siblings, and how to group themselves for maximum socialization AND shopping efficiency. And all the while, these early adolescents are developing vital life skills without even realizing it.
The students are responsible for ensuring that their bicycles, helmets, and locks arrive at the school a day early to be thoroughly checked by the 7th and 8th graders. Tires pumped? Check. Brakes in good working order? Check. On the day of the ride, they carefully load the bikes into the back of a truck, and unload them again when we arrive at the base of the trail. Independence and responsibility? Double check!
The ride itself encourages physical stamina, balance, coordination, and the awareness to ride safely on both trails and the quiet streets of Princeton. For some students, they have just recently learned to ride a bicycle or have little or no riding experience. And that is OK. For many students, this is their first opportunity to share the road while on a bicycle and it provides a guided means of developing their confidence and the understanding that they are active participants in their own safety. The feeling of pride in their success was evident by their huge smiles when we arrived at the Princeton library!
And of course, the highlight of the trip is several hours to explore a few blocks of Princeton on a gorgeous autumn day! With regular check-ins (and “Oh, I was just out getting a coffee!” walk-bys from teachers 😉 groups of students had the freedom to decide where, when, and what they were going to eat; how to manage their limited funds to account for food, souvenirs, and gifts; discussing among their groups how they were going to finish everyone’s “wish list” within the allotted time frame before their next check-in; and what was the best route to take around town so they could be efficient with their time.
Confidence, independence, accountability, negotiating group dynamics, adhering to a budget, time management, physical fitness, map skills, bicycle awareness and safety…and they accomplished it all while being polite and respectful members of the greater Princeton community. For our Middle School students, an adventure like this is the continuation of the Montessori Practical Life curriculum. It embodies the essence of the early adolescent developmental stage, by supporting their need to be trusted with gradually increasing responsibilities and freedoms, and to spend more time in the world outside of the classroom. And the sheer joy radiating from the students on the bus ride home was a wonderful bonus!