How do I know if my Sparkle is ready to take a dance class?
This is the question that many parents ask themselves when making their first attempt to try something new. Just because an activity lists an age parameter doesn't mean it's one-size-fits-all. The worst case scenario is that you find out that now is not the time. But you'll never know if you don't ask. We've created some helpful tips to let you know if your budding star is ready for the teacher/student clasroom experience just yet.
Tip #1 Communication
Does your child openly communicate with others outside his or her family? Can he or she respond with "yes" and "no?" Can he or she use her words to let the instructor know she needs to use the facilities? It is important that an instructor be able to establish communication with your child. If this has not yet been established, try a conversation with the cashier at your next trip to the grocery store to test it out. This is the first indication that your Sparkle may or may not be ready for dance classes!
Tip #2 Rapport
How does your child do in a public setting? Does she shy away from adults who try to speak with her? Does he ignore other people when they make the attempt? Are you helping them to learn how to do that? As parents, we have so much to teach and we sometimes forget those social nuances in the hustle bustle of letters, colors, numbers and tantrums. Oh yes! Those tantrums. More on that later. Try helping your child understand the difference between strangers and safe adults. This will help whether you're signing him up for dance, swimming or baseball...or anything else where parents are asked to step aside and allow their child to learn from another safe adult. When it's time to meet the teacher, you'll want to attend an Open House or take a Studio Tour so that the teacher and your Sparkle have time to build that rapport instead of right before a class begins.
Tip #3 Behavior
How well does your child handle "no?" If he or she is struggling with your "no," it's a safe bet that someone else's "no" is not going to end well. Once a child has learned how to accept that there will be rules to follow is someone else's "home," they are one step closer to taking any kind of class they desire. But if your child is still shouting or throwing tantrums, or just being outright defiant, he or she is just not ready yet. Children learn best with fewer distractions and we must take ALL students into consideration, not just one child. Unruly behavior is not fair to the teacher or the other children in the class.
Tip #4 Separation Anxiety
Have you ever left your child with a babysitter? Was it a pleasant experience for both or just a tear fest all night? Although this is not the only test and certainly not definitive, it may be insight as to the readiness of your Sparkle. We recommend that before signing her up for a trial class, you make a best effort to attend either a Mommy and Me class (age depending), attend an Open House or take a studio tour to acclimate your Sparkle with a "safe space." When he or she sees that you trust the space and the people, it helps them to feel that way, too. At GCAPA we have several Open Houses each season for just this opportunity and we hope that you will take the time to swing by for his or her comfort. Ask to meet the teacher before the first day of classes. Teachers are often running from one class to the next so the time between classes is not the best time to make first introductions to the teacher or the space. And if there are tears on that first day, let's give it a try anyway....our teachers are accustomed to carrying in a tearful toddler or two and turning those tears into smiles before the first song even ends. But if we can't get the tears to stop....that's OK. It just means that 'ready' isn't today. We are always happy to try again next month or next year or whenever they are ready to try again.
Tip #5 Timing
In our many years of experience with young dancers, we have found that timing is sometimes everything. Some children are temperamental if they need a nap, so nap time is not the best time to schedule your Sparkle's class. Down time is another roadblock to try to avoid. Just like adults, when children come home at the end of the day, they're looking forward to relaxing and playing and just being done with the obligations of the day, no matter how much they enjoyed school or activities. We all feel more comfortable in our homes. Be sure to choose a class that doesn't take place after 'down time' from school or other scheduled activities. Once they go home, you will no doubt struggle to get them back up. They'll even have you believe that they don't want to do that thing they love. We have seen it first-hand. It is the number one reason why children often quit activities. If you are a working parent with limited options, consider a class after school/work (before going home) or on Saturday; first thing in the morning. GCAPA has Saturday morning classes specifically for those in this situation, plus a great make-up policy if you have to miss a class here or there for family fun!
Tip #6 Be OK with the result
As parents, we often fear 'what others will think of me or my child if...'
As dance educators for nearly the past 3 decades, we do not judge anyone for a toddler's behavior. We have seen and experienced just about everything and we know very well that a toddler has a mind of their own!
It is very easy to take offense when someone tells us that our child just isn't ready even when they mean well. It is very easy to feel inadequate because our child hasn't reached the point of separation by a certain age when we should think of it as a compliment that our children simply prefer our company to anyone else. We put so much pressure on ourselves as parents and then our kids so that we feel like we are doing it right. There is no timeline on your child's progress. There are children who say nothing for 3 years and then begin by speaking full sentences. Some infants never crawl and go straight to walking. There are teens that finish college while wrapping up high school while others are barely making it through 11th grade for the second time. Whatever your child's path is, let it be.....and then be OK with it. If you are making the effort to teach them the skills they need to have, then you are doing your job. Stop comparing your child to others. Don't worry if your eldest was walking at 9 months but your youngest could chill in the infant carrier until puberty. They will do it when they're ready. Same goes for dance class, whether your Sparkle is 'run, run leaping' across the room or just strolling with his hand in his pocket, it's fine. He's happy, he's moving forward. All in due time. If the result is "She's not ready," be OK with that. There's no hurry. Many many famous dancers did not begin their journey until 10 or older. For right now, let her be 3 or 4 or whatever age she is. And if that means dance class has to wait another 6-12 months, be OK with that, too. We'll be here when she is ready.