I have a friend whose son is not particularly athletic. He is brilliant, funny, creative and kind, but he is just not into competition. PE class can be torture.
I immediately thought of him, and hundreds of other kids like him, when I talked with Amy Armstrong Monday for a story on programs offered this summer for Larkin's Place. Armstrong is the force behind Larkin's Place, a recreation center for people of all ages and abilities that will be incorporated into the Champaign County YMCA's new building in southwest Champaign.
She emphasized how the classes are intended for all kinds of kids, not just those with disabilities, who might want a parent along, or a just a slower, noncompetitive atmosphere for swimming lessons or other programs. By participating, they can also help classmates who may have developmental challenges, gaining self-confidence and even a friend in the process, she says.
She also talked about the challenges that Larkin, who has developmental delays, has had with other programs, including a music class that, while fun, didn't really give kids time to learn the songs or make transitions from one phase to another.
My son and I attended a similar class when he was a toddler, and I remember thinking the same thing. He faced no special developmental challenges but was sometimes painfullly shy, especially in front of a group. He would sit on my lap and stare as the teacher ran lickety-split through a regimen of kids' songs, some that we knew, some that we didn't.
I managed to sing along after a class or two, but there was never any teaching time, and I started to worry that he wasn't really benefiting from it at all.
Then one day at home he started singing one of the songs, and it became obvious that he'd learned them all. But he just didn't feel comfortable singing with the others. Frankly, I think he enjoyed the play time afterward more. A little more facilitation by the teacher might have made a big difference for him.
Larkin's Place programs will be small, with staff especially trained to ensure that all the children are learning -- and having fun.
So even if your child is "typical," you might consider one of the swimming or gymnastics classes this summer. He or she will get plenty of encouragement, learn some new skills in a noncompetitive atmosphere, and may just end up helping another child in the process.