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Tuesday, 19 November 2013 21:27

Gymnastics, and Lesson Taking

I had an interesting discussion with a friend awhile ago about whether or not to start a child in lessons/classes early (or not) and about which classes were better to begin earlier than others. I had always said that music is something that can be picked up later in life, and physical activity must be done early. My experience told me that beginning piano lessons at age 13 did NOT slow me down, and I pretty much caught up to others in my age group after about two years - so piano lessons could therefore begin at either age 7 or at age 14, and you would all end up in the same place by age 16 (ish).

Athletics didn't work this way for me - my Dad had no interest in sports, and so there was no encouragement to become involved in team sports when I was a child. At about age 12, I decided I wanted to do something active - like my friends were - and joined a community soccer team. It became quite clear, quite quickly, that I would never catch up. I had been too inactive for too long, and so I quit and decided that 'if only' my Dad had encouraged athletics when I was young, maybe I could have been athletic as a teenager as well. Sigh.

Anyway, my friend argued that for some people it is the opposite - beginning music early is imperative if they are to truly learn and grasp all of the concepts, and athletics come naturally so some can pick those up later in life and be just fine. 


So all these years I thought I could be a ballerina if only I had been exposed early enough... and the truth was? I'm musical. Music is natural to me. Sports are not. And likely, no amount of experience could have kept me on the court that day my elementary school basketball coach told me that it was probably best for me to sit on the bench for the rest of the tournament... 

Anyway, I am making a general assumption about my daughters that may or may not prove to be true in a few years: I'm assuming that they will also lean toward music and academics and struggle a bit more in the physical education department. My husband and I were both the types to avoid gym class at all costs, and both of us excel in music. 

For this reason, I decided that I will (for my daughters) encourage physical education early. Brian and I will have to really push ourselves out of our comfort zone to do some of these activities with them, but I also wanted to get them involved in some kind of classes/lessons as soon as possible. 

Enter gymnastics.

Excuse the rotton photo - I was trying to catch a running subject without getting anyone else in the picture. Didn't quite work.

Last week Clara attended the last class in her first 10-week session of gymnastics. She is in a class for 3-5 year olds (yes, I know she's only 2) but the administrator, who is a close friend of ours, told me that she would likely be ready to start already this year. Intellectually she is not slow for her age, and because she is used to hanging around with kids who are in the 3-5 year old age group, I hoped this would go well.

The first week was a bit of a surprise. Clara has never been clingy with me, and for this first class she insisted that I stay with her. She participated in almost nothing that the other kids were doing, and I was nervous that she would always need me beside her and would never be confident enough to run and jump with the other kids. 

The second week was encouraging and discouraging. Encouraging, because she attempted a few of the activities and seemed more confident than the week before. Discouraging, because she seemed to be really awful at sitting, listening, and following directions. She was 'that kid' who spent her time running around doing other things and paying little or no attention to what  she was supposed to be doing. As someone who teaches kids myself, I know how it feels when a parent remains too involved in a class setting - the more a parent is involved with their kid, the less able the teacher is to interact with the child, which makes it almost impossible for the teacher to properly teach. I knew that on one hand, if I was always stepping in to try to get Clara to 'sit still and listen' I was robbing the teachers of the chance to figure out how to get my kid to 'sit still and listen'. But, on the other hand, if the teachers were spending all of their time trying to get Clara to 'sit still and listen', then I felt bad for the other kids whose experience would be diminished because of my daughter.  

For the third class, I left. The teachers knew where to find me, and I had explained to Clara that I would not stay. After about half an hour I guess there were a couple of kids who had meltdowns and wanted to come see their moms (I was informed that this sort of thing always happens in groups - when one kid gets the idea, at least one other will follow).  She stayed up with me for a little while, and then I took her back downstairs to her class and left her there, where she remained for the rest of the class.

I should probably add that for the first few classes I bribed her with cake pops from Starbucks if she listened to her teachers... 

For the remaining gymnastics classes, she did pretty well. I don't think she ever got to the point where she was brave enough to do everything that the other kids were doing - she's a pretty timid little girl, and I think trampolines kind of freak her out - but for the rest of the session she only came to see me once, and I was told that this time she hadn't been the 'first kid' to call for her Mom that day. I was pretty proud of her. 

So anyway, my plan is to keep her in something that is physically active at all times, and to introduce some kind of music classes at some point in the future - if our budget allows, that is.

I struggle with the idea that so many talents require a lot of work and practice - that if my child chooses someday to be an expert *whatever*, I hope that they have been given adequate training for that to be possible. I know that some things - like ballet, I believe - require you to begin early. If you want to be a ballerina, but take no ballet until you're 16, I believe you don't have a shot anymore. Recreational, maybe, but at this point you are 'too old' to ever be a professional. I know I can't put my daughters in everything, because I also think that kids are way too busy these days, but I would hate to know someday that their dreams could not be realized because of my choices for them.

What are your thoughts about lessons and classes? Should kids start early? Later? Are kids in too many things these days? What did you do for your kids? 

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