In every place we have lived (Montana, Arizona, and Colorado), we have visited the local gymnastics schools. There is always an "Open Gymnastics" time when the schools open their doors for a small fee and allow families to run around, jump on trampolines, hang from bars, and balance on beams. It is essentially an indoor playground.
So on days when the weather isn't right for playing outside (too rainy, snowy, or hot), it is a wonderful option for getting in some big movement. And even when the weather is right sometimes it is nice to work in a new place to spice up life.
Setting the Scene (A Parent's Expectations)
The gyms look a lot like what you might expect. There are balance beams set to various heights. Uneven parallel bars invite hanging. Trampolines are ready for being bounced upon. I know what all those inviting structures are for because I have grown up watching the olympics. I imagine my own children as mini Mary Lou Retton, who was one of my childhood idols, or her modern counterpart Simone Biles. They will run and jump and hang and balance. Or won't they?
When a Square is a Frog
Our children haven't grown up watching the olympics. They are in the middle of growing up and might not have had the chance yet!
Yesterday at open gymnastics my daughter ignored almost all the gymnastics things and grabbed a green beanbag. "Let's play frogs," she said. Surprised but curious, I accepted her invitation and followed her around with a "frog" in hand. Then we proceeded to spend almost the ENTIRE hour in and around the foam pit ("lake") playing "frogs."
The frogs looked for family members (which were in the form of blue foam cubes), hopped around the outside of the lake, jumped into the lake, and flew over the lake with jetpacks (which were different colored beanbags).
The whole time I looked at all the other places we weren't going - the trampoline, the bars, the beams - and shrugged.
Open Gymnastics, Open Minds
It has taken me years to open my mind at open gyms (and other places). I used to want to lead my child around, showing him or her all the awesome things with which we could play. I treated the space as a list of things to do and I would make sure we checked off every single task. In fact, I didn't always let them exhaust their interest, say in the trampoline, before ushering them to the next place.
By now I know that it is better for my child to choose. And I have found a perspective that helps me relax my expectations - my child is learning something in every thing she does. Spending the day at the "lake" playing "frogs" she got to discuss family, make plans for getting around the space (is that preschool cartography?), and use a beanbag as a frog (well, that substitution is just preschool algebra).
Getting the Most at Preschool Open Gymnastics
Before heading into open gymnastics (or a children's museum or ANYTHING for that matter), first grant yourself patience and an open mind. Your child's interest might surprise you (or it might not) and allowing him or her the option to explore and to learn at his or her own pace will be just right.