I do a lot of classes with my twin toddlers. As a stay-at-home mom, I find the very last thing I want to do is actually stay at home. Especially in the winter, when we can’t spend an hour out in the yard (though sometimes I try), we need quality indoor activities.
I’ve found there are particular things that make a class work, in particular when you have more than one child. Obviously, a kind, organized, enthusiastic group leader or teacher is key, as is a child-safe space. But even more than that, I find we do the best in classes that really allow toddlers to be toddlers. And by that, I mean that sometimes one of my kids will be into circle time, and sometimes one of them will want to wander off and do their own thing. At nearly 18 months old, this is not a question of poor behavior or budding ADHD. It’s just toddlers. And when you have two of them, your ability to keep both in your lap at a particular time is limited. So I appreciate the classes where the space is safe and confined, and the teacher doesn’t mind if some children decide to do something different, as long as it isn’t disruptive or unsafe. That’s why I’m in love with Music Together and the Little Gym. There are fun, structured activities, but no one minds if one day they want to dance, and one day they want to sit quietly.
Which brings me to this morning. My local moms of twins club organized a playgroup at a nearby Gymboree. The club was going to cover part of the cost, so it was an hour of indoor activity for $5. Sounds great! Sign us up. There were close to 20 kids, mostly sets of twins (some singleton siblings, too). So you had roughly one adult for every two kids. And all of the moms (and nannies) in the room were used to that. You can’t always have a hand on both kids at all times, but we help each other out and keep an eye on our kids.
Start off with the fact that the teacher/leader was late, the door was locked, and we stood out in the cold. My Rebecca, who had already had a rough morning, was getting pretty upset. We finally got in, and I’m trying to calm her down while preventing Daniel from running on the mats before I can get his shoes off. It’s a little nutty, and Rebecca’s having a bit of a meltdown, but I’m trying to get everything under control. What does the teacher say to me? “You know, if she’s going to keep crying, you can feel free to leave.” Um. What? I thought she was kidding. But no, she continued, “I don’t want them to be crying in my class.”
OK. Step off. I’ve been inside for approximately 60 seconds. My kid was cold. My kid is a toddler, for crying out loud. And you’re going to suggest that I might want to leave. Hoo boy, you can bet I almost did. But I had friends there, so I decided to stay. (Steam coming out of my ears.)
It didn’t get much better from there. The teacher was unclear and not well-organized. She got really annoyed when the kids didn’t want to (or didn’t understand how to) do exactly the activity she had in her mind. She made no effort to teach us any of the songs, but seemed put out that we didn’t sing along. She put out the parachute, but didn’t want the kids to shake it, or really, in any way interact with it until she was ready. And when my daughter was climbing on one of the play structures and it tipped over (she was fine, just startled), I got lectured about how “that’s why we always tell the parents to stay within ‘hugs reach’.” I was a few feet from my daughter when it happened, not off in another room eating bon-bons. And she was using the structure in its intended manner, not climbing somewhere she shouldn’t have been. I nearly decked the teacher, but instead scooped up my kids and left.
I know it’s not easy having a room full of toddlers. I understand she must have been overwhelmed to not have the usual 1:1 adult-to-child ratio. I don’t expect playgroup teachers to be super-human. But I do expect them to have some fundamental understanding of the nature of the age they’re teaching, which includes flexibility, clarity, and good humor.
And I’m sure there are Gymboree teachers out there who have that gift. But, I can assure you, my kids and I (and our money) will not be returning. It was bad from any objective standpoint. But especially when you have two kids to watch and take care of, I really need a class that is accepting of the nature of toddlers, not one that fights it.