Today we tried out a free trial toddler tumbling class. I had mixed feelings. I knew this would either be great or it would be disaster.
As we walked in Mark wanted to run off and play like he does for open gym. I had to stop him. This was not a good start to our class. The teacher said Hi to Mark and then invited the group of 4 toddlers aged 1-2.5 to follow her and find a spot on the floor (there were literal spots on the floor). The other 3 followed and quickly picked out a color. Mark looked right at her and said “No!” and ran to the foam pit! Once again I had mixed feelings. Part of me was so proud. He was interested in something else and wasn’t going to let some random lady he never met tell him what to do. But I was also embarrassed to be “That mom” with “That kid.”
I pointed out the circles on the floor to him and he was a little more interested. First they sang a song and he just stood off a little ways watching. Then they did a few minutes of stretching, which luckily was (thanks to Tae Kwon Do) something I could do. So I sat him in my lap while I did the stretches. Eventually he did grab his toes, and he liked doing the butterflies. But toddlers don’t naturally put their legs straight out in front of them and Mark wasn’t going to have any part of that.
Next they headed to the bars, where she explained 4 different stations and basically in a kind way told me to make my kid do it. “Mom, help Mark grab the bars.” My kid was saying “No” and I wasn’t going to just ignore that. I did my best using the little animals she had out to make the bars interesting. It worked and he grabbed on a few times, but mostly just wanted to run away. I ended up just holding him most of the time.
Next was the tumble track. What a surprise, he didn’t want to do it! He wanted to jump on the trampoline and guess what, he was ACTUALLY jumping! He’s never done that! And the teacher says “Mom, help Mark come over here and learn” I just wanted to look at her and shout “Damnit he is learning!!!” But I didn’t. I just picked him up and held him so he wouldn’t encourage the rest of the class to think for themselves. At this point I whispered in his ear “I’m so sorry buddy. Just try and hold still a little longer, I won’t make you ever come back.”
Eventually he did want to do the tumble track, but he just wanted to run down it and there were all these structured things she wanted them to do and she grabbed him and forced him to put his feet in a hoop on the ground while she said “inside” and then told me “He’s learning inside and outside” and I just nodded while I thought, “No he isn’t, he’s learning not to trust you.”
After that she FINALLY let them go in the foam pit! Mark was so happy! Then she announced “One minute to explore the squishy!” Seriously, you finally let him do what he wants and you are going to drag him out after 1 minute?? Well after that she blew bubbles so it was pretty easy to get him out. At least the bubbles were timed well. But then she quickly put them away and all the kids seemed confused (one even found the bubbles and took them and was ridiculed for it, I thought it was pretty smart). Once again as soon as they all liked and got involved in something she stopped it.
Next was the little obstacle course that the other kids seemed to really like, but Mark was only mildly interested in. He did like doing the balance beam and was surprising good at it! After that came the best quote of the class, “Now time for 5 minutes of creative free play learning!” I could only chuckle at that statement. Basically she should have said, “I’m going to stop hindering you from learning now!”
Mark ran right to the trampoline he wanted to go on the whole time and jumped the whole 5 minutes away! Then the weirdest part happened. She took out a box and shook it and all the little kids (except Mark) came running. It was like trained dogs, I wanted to hurl. I let him keep jumping a little longer so I could see what was in the box before I took him over. I was worried it would be candy or fruit snacks or something. It was hand stamps and she was stamping the kids feet and hands, so I took Mark over where he reluctantly got a cow stamped on his hand then realized what it was and wanted his other hand done! The teacher asked for a high five and he high fived the stamp box!
I wished so bad I could let him play a few minutes more but we had to pack up and leave. I stopped by the front desk to tell them the class was way too structured and we would not be joining and got out of there.
This ordeal made me think a lot about my philosophy on learning and kids and structured classes like this that have goals of imparting specific skills to young children.
First, I believe kids are born to learn. That is their purpose in life, to learn. They are great at it and will naturally do things that help them learn. They need very little guidance in this endeavor at young ages. They play to learn.
Second, I believe its the caregivers job to step in and guide kids in learning with what they are already doing, and let kids learn to their fullest potential. This means knowing when to step in and knowing when to back off. A toddler learning how to jump on a trampoline (that is in the floor that they can’t fall off of) is a good time to just stand back and watch. A toddler who is pointing out different colored “rocks” on the climbing wall is a good place to step in and help them name the colors!
Third, I believe trust between the caregivers and the child is of the upmost importance and that trust should not be violated to help them learn a skill they don’t care about and will pick up in the next few years anyway. For example you should not force a child that is saying “no” to do a summersault. There is just no good reason. There are plenty of times toddlers will say “no” that you can’t respect, such as not wanting to buckle up in the car and not wanting to put on a coat when its below zero. You should respect a child’s will whenever you possibly can.
This doesn’t mean you can’t encourage them, ask them, and show them new things! Mark gladly watched other kids doing summersaults, and one time ran over to try. But if you ask and they say “no” there’s no need to push it.
In conclusion, I think classes geared at toddlers should be very loosely structured and should be designed to present opportunities for exploration where the teacher is trained to know when it is a good time to step in and help the kids learn a new skill. This is how our swim class is and we love it very much. For now though we will be skipping the tumbling class and sticking with open gym!