This past weekend I went to my 5 year old niece’s gymnastics class. The school she goes to is apparently one of the country’s national training centers. The way things were laid out in the building, I wondered if a similar format in an arts academy might be conducive to generating interest and excitement in families about being involved in performing and visual arts.
Basically, pretty much all the activity in the school was on display and happening at once. The building was essentially a large warehouse space with mats down everywhere. Nearest to the entry area on the left side was an open space where gymnasts were practicing flips. On the right side were trampolines and balance beams.
Dead center of the room were pommel horses and rings with uneven bars nearby. There was a sort of divider across the middle of the room and beyond that were other balance beams, vaulting pits and other equipment you would know from the Olympics. To one side along the dividing line there was a loft platform with a sign indicating it was “kiddie world” or something along those lines.
As I said, pretty much every area was being used at the same time. They had groups starting every 5 minutes with stretches and then moving on to some section of the room to start learning.
My niece’s class was only about 30 minutes and my assumption was many of the higher level students had started much earlier and would be sticking around much longer. My guess would be that there was probably a flurry of activity for about two hours a night with families bringing young kids in for 30-60 minute classes and then the serious students had the place to themselves again.
What impressed me about the whole arrangement was that parents waiting for their kids in the raised observation gallery would be sitting there watching all this bustle of activity and could visualize their kids advancing around the room until they were executing the precise motions of the students along the back wall.
Or perhaps like me, they might be impressed by the number of boys enrolled in the program, having had no conception there were that many 10-14 year old boys interested in gymnastics. Not to mention that they would have the upper body strength to work on the rings at that age.
Sitting there, it was easy for me to envision classes in dance, improv, acting, painting and other activities all occurring before me. Perhaps they would be partitioned off from each other a little, but everything would be visible from the parents’ raised view. (I confess, I am not sure how musical instruments or voice might be effectively integrated, but I am sure a music educator could find an easy solution.)
The biggest plus in my mind was the opportunity to take arts classes of many disciplines out of closed classrooms and studios and put them on display all at once, providing information about all the options that are out there.
No one is going to mistakenly believe a great ability in an artistic discipline could be cultivated in a half hour class. On the other hand, kids can be fearless and impress you with their progress as my niece did for her mother and I.
An arts school that brought together all that energy and excitement with a little bursting of preconceived notions could create positive impressions for both parents and kids about the arts while both are at the start of their relationship. Maybe it results in increased attendance at arts events or the kids and parents taking additional arts classes later in life.
As a parent, in this scenario your experience with your kid’s class isn’t that dreaded recital. It is watching your kid have fun doing something. If they don’t appear to be having fun in that painting class, seeing that other kid having fun over at the dance class suggests an alternative. Maybe seeing other kids and parents having fun painting together makes you want to join in. (If only you can get your kid to want to take that instead of dance!)