I’ve been able to have a little more one-on-one time with River in the past week or so. One of the activities we did together was to attend a trial gymnastics class at Little Gym. He has always been very physically cautious, which means he’s never hurt himself, but also means that he seems to be behind other kids his age in his ability to jump, swing, hang, etc. So I thought it might be fun to try out something that would motivate him to develop some of those skills.
The class was fun, better than I expected, and the facilities were great for a child of his age. But the one thing that struck me was the parental involvement. Parents of younger children participated in the class with the child. Parents of children in River’s class (3-4 year olds) weren’t allowed in. However, chairs were lined up along the glass windows and parents sat in a long row gazing out at their babies as they traversed balance beams, jumped over a rope, and ran in circles.
I found it strange that I was led to a chair rather than being offered the choice of watching or taking an hour for myself. But all the other parents were lined up to watch and a friend of mine told me her two-year-old is in a morning preschool program that offers parents the opportunity to watch through a window (and she does). If I’d had the choice, I probably would have gone to a café and relaxed for an hour, confident that River would have been fine without me. Upon sitting, I realized I forgot my book and thought it would be a very long hour until I found an audiobook in my coat pocket.
To my surprise, I ended up enjoying watching the class more than I expected. River waved to me several times and perhaps it made him feel good that I was there to see him. After the first 15 minutes or so, he didn’t look my way again, but I did remember back to my high school tennis playing days and the extra effort I’d put in when I knew someone from my family was there. Also, I have to admit the voyeuristic pleasure I take at the gym when I watch him from the treadmill videocam and see how he manages on his own or when he doesn’t realize I’m watching him play outside and I can see how he explores his environment.
It was nice to see River in a classroom context, a place where he thrives. I loved watching his face change from the “what the fuck is this?” look of confusion upon encountering something new, to the look of concentration as he attempted to figure it out or do what was asked of him, to the look of confidence and achievement that appeared once he had done it. It’s the cycle of learning playing out in his expressions and it’s beautiful to watch.
I could also see how important the other kids were as role models. When he saw a little girl, a fraction of his size, grab onto rings and hang from them, he tried hard to be able to do the same thing, though he had never done it before. In the course of just an hour, I saw him do several things he had never attempted before, and he smiled almost the whole time.
Mark asked the other day why people pay huge amounts of money for preschool or these types of classes. He doesn’t think it’s worth it, and I’ve also been skeptical at the benefits to the child of classes offered at very early ages (though I see the benefit for the parents). I left that class feeling I had a possible answer. It’s for the opportunity to experience intense learning in a structured and fun environment, to be able to learn from the strengths of other kids, and to develop confidence in one’s body, mind and social skills.
I don’t know if I’d line up with the parents against the window every week. I might be like the mom next to me, who was doing work, or I might sneak off and get a cup of tea. But I did really enjoy getting a glimpse into how River can join into a class of strangers, have fun, and learn. Seeing him challenged and watching how he encountered those new situations gave me a sense of who he will be as an independent person.
Do you want to be able to watch your kids in school/classes/activities, or do you prefer to take time for yourself? How much parental involvement do you think is needed/worthwhile?