The email read innocently enough “Astrid is now the only child enrolled in our Monday morning gymnastic class so we will need to find another class for her to join. The following are your options…”
Strange though. It was now March, and this four year old class started in September. We had now spent the school year with our Monday morning ritual. Astrid has made friends with her four ‘tumbling-mates’ and I’ve made nice with the other moms. No one had mentioned dropping out or switching classes when we just saw them a few days ago. Astrid liked her gymnastic friends and class very much and at times on a Sunday night would say “Gymnastics is tomorrow so I get to see Hannah!”
And as much as I’m not very good at making mom friends at these types of things – I did enjoy this hour each week with the five of us sitting in comfortable chairs, lattes in hand, watching our kids through the big picture window as we discussed school choices, the cold winter, and a bit of celebrity gossip.
If you are or have been a parent of a preschooler – you know how these weekly morning classes go – whether a music class, book group, ECFE group, tumbling class, or soccer – it’s a constant for the school year and part of your schedule. A place for your kids to try something new, a place to meet new friends, a place to fill a morning when you can’t fathom another long morning at home in the long winter, a place of comfort in your week that you count on.
But this was actually more than that. Gymnastic is something she loves. She can do forward and backward rolls, balance on the beam, and is learning to flip over the bar. She’s proud of herself and I love that about her. As we all know, these excursions into “Hey, let’s try this!” – whether violin, baseball, or chess club – can sometimes not go too well for anybody.
“I guess we will try Thursday night.” I wrote back. None of the new times looked great and I wish I had contact numbers for the other moms to see if they dropped out or moved to another time, as it would be nice for Astrid to continue gymnastics with them.
Thursday night was everything Monday morning wasn’t. It wasn’t just the quiet, small preschool class in the gym – but 10 classes going on at once – from preschool to the college team training in different corners of the smallish space. But a light came in the chaos ,while Astrid shed her snow pants down to her leotard, was that two of her friends from Monday were also in the hallway – including Hannah.
Until they lined up and while Hannah and the other friend lined up in one place – Astrid was asked to line up with another group. I could see a bit of worry mixed with her own strong brave face as she watched her Monday friends go in a different direction. And I watched her through the window as she jumped, balanced, tumbled, and rolled with her new class.
“Did you have fun?” I asked her when she came out of class and she showed me her stamp on her hand from her new teacher.
“It was okay. Busy. But I wish I could be with my friends.” She said quietly as she sat on the dirty floor to pull on her leggings and socks.
“I’ll contact them tomorrow to see what we can do.” I told her. “But maybe that class is already full.”
I emailed the director asking if Astrid could be moved with her friends if there was room. Her answer surprised me.
“Oh, they’ve moved up to a more advanced level and Astrid is not ready for that yet. So no, they cannot be together. If Astrid wants to continue to do gymnastics she’ll have to stay at a lower level – which is the class she is now assigned to on Thursday nights.”
My first reaction was visceral “MY daughter? My daughter IS good and deserves to be with the more advanced level with the other four year olds!” And “Astrid – now you have to work harder and then you can be with your friends!” I sheepishly admit I thought that. Said that. Wanted that.
Until the next week as we drove away from another Thursday night class of Astrid watching her friends across the room and she said to me “I don’t like gymnastics anymore.”
After loving, and announcing it as her favorite activity for the past six months.
So I went back to the gym’s website to see what it said about the classes and of ‘moving up levels’ and of ‘handling of preschooler confidence and emotions,’ and all it had were age group classes listed. We signed up for a 4-5 year old class for the school year. And it was our expectation to be in it, and with consistency for the year. I know kids will be at different skill levels – just like they are for any activity – but to start dividing them up and showing them where they belong on the skill ladder at this age. Well that just hurt us both.
And made her start not liking something she started having a passion for.
Now I’m not one of those parents who believe that all kids should be equal in activities, no winners or losers, and medals for participating – but to squash kids at four years old in their first year at an activity? I’m not sure what the point of it all is. Maybe those other four year olds who are ‘more advanced’ now can keep their legs a little straighter on a cartwheel, but it’s not like they’re doing split jumps on the beam yet either.
So I emailed the gym director one more time and asked if there was another class we could try, and we found an opening on a Friday afternoon. It’s a small class, with some sweet kids, and she doesn’t have to see her old friends across the gym anymore. And when these lower level kids finished last week, Astrid ran to me with a smile to show me her stamp.
“Did you have fun?” I asked.
“Yes, mama – this was much more fun today. I guess maybe I’ll keep trying gymnastics for awhile.”
And we walked out of the gym hand in hand without a care in the world about her level. Because she had fun.
Do you feel they should start diving kids based upon skills and levels at this age? What’s your experience?