Scooter loved his gymnastics program in Toronto. For anyone up there who is looking for a gymnastics class for a little one, I definitely recommend UofT's Junior Blues program. At first glance, it shouldn't have worked for Scooter: multiple groups meet in a large, echoing room and there's some crossover of groups at the beginning and end times. Additionally, he got a new teacher each session, every 10 to 12 weeks. For a kid with sensory issues, there's every reason to expect it to be overwhelming beyond distracting. And yet, it really worked for Scooter.
This is not to say he was particularly good at the skills they were being taught. Parent observation week showed us that his movement remained a bit undisciplined, but he made up for it with his enthusiasm. The instructors did an excellent job of scaling their demands to what he could accomplish and communicating to us what he needed to work on (i.e., in the first session, he had trouble following verbal directions). The beginning of his assessments coincided with the second session, and we let the instructors know what he was working on in OT. His instructor in the third session excitedly informed me when Scooter walked across the balance beam all by himself. Sure, his classmates were working on walking backwards, but his accomplishment was celebrated nonetheless.
And so we were happy to see that there is a gymnastics school in Springfield with classes for his age. The occupational therapist at the elementary school, however, warned us that it might not be the best fit for Scooter. Nonetheless, we decided to enroll him, figuring that he would probably enjoy moving around, if nothing else. I told the school director about his gross motor issues, and she didn't seem to have a problem with this.
I was not impressed by the first class. Perhaps the teacher was having a bad day, but she seemed more rigid and short than I would have expected with preschoolers. The class also seemed much more focused on skills than Scooter's old program; the teacher was intent on him completing each action as planned--no satisfaction with him just hanging from the bars if the activity was swinging in a pike. She expected Scooter to imitate what the other kids did and to take verbal correction. For him--for many young kids, I imagine--seeing and hearing what he should do does not always translate to proper movement. Even if Scooter understands what he's supposed to do (and his comprehension has improved a lot), it doesn't mean he can make his body do it.
He cried twice during the class. Climbing the cargo net scared him and he froze, crying until the teacher helped him down. By the time he made it to the balance beam, he simply took one look at it and said, "I can't." The teacher put down some very low foam blocks for him to walk on instead--after he stood his ground when she tried to push him to get on the beam.
My rational side felt that we should have gone a second week: the first time is rarely smooth, so perhaps it would go better as he came to understand the routine. But when the OT called us with an appointment time that conflicted with gymnastics, I went ahead and took it. It didn't hurt my decision process when the OT suggested that it's important for Scooter not to get frustrated with his body right now. And so I disenrolled him, explaining that the course is too advanced for him and that he is likely to fall further behind instead of rising to the challenge.
I hated taking him completely out of gymnastics, however, so I decided to search on "Capitol City gymnastics." Sure enough, two studios came up. One of them explicitly said on its webpage that their philosophy is to help children proceed through the skills as is appropriate for them individually. I sent an email, explaining that Scooter has gross motor issues and was definitely behind his age in motor control. The owner wrote back, inviting us to drop-in for a class of 4- and 5-year-olds. They're about halfway into a session right now, but she was willing to let us sign up for the remainder if things went well.
So we went to the studio today. It turns out that it opened not too long ago; right now, it's a fairly small space, without some of the large equipment Scooter's had both in Toronto and in Springfield, but it looked like a great space for kids. Scooter started out by watching the other kids running around, not sure he wanted to join in. But watching the kids run around was too great a temptation, and he quickly jumped out of Trillian's arms. The owner and an assistant let the kids play with some foam blocks while they set up and then they got out some bells for the kids to shake.
Everything was done with a spirit of play. Corrections were both verbal and physical (as in helping the child get into the proper position), all with a light and gentle touch. Lots of praise and encouragement. I held my breath particularly when Scooter had his first turn on the balance beam. He held out a hand to the assistant, who helped him across without any protest. When the exercise was changed up and they were told to "gallop" across the beam, I expected him just to walk across as before--that's pretty much what he'd done in his program in Toronto. Instead, he asked for help again and proceeded to gallop. He slipped off once or twice, but got right back on and kept going. That he was willing to take on new challenges proved to me that he was feeling very comfortable.
No surprise--we signed Scooter up for the rest of the session. The owner told me that this is a great group of kids--they're great listeners and friendly kids. She thought Scooter had done well for his first time, and I replied that he had responded well and enjoyed himself. This conversation also told me that she is exactly the sort of person I want teaching my son gymnastics. Her expectations are right where they should be. These "great listeners" did not necessarily do everything she asked right away, sometimes they forgot what they were supposed to be doing, sometimes they interrupted. But they're 4 and 5, that's what they do, and she knows this.
So Scooter has a gymnastics class now. We have to travel (each way) as long as the class itself, but we'll combine the trip with shopping and a visit to Grandma and Grandpa. It would have been more convenient to have gymnastics in town (and on a weekday to fill the half of the day that won't have preschool), but it's much more satisfying to see him eagerly jumping into physical activity.