Class Matters

3 Jan

The conversation I had with the woman at the local taco stand began innocently enough. The place was full and there was an extra space at the picnic table I was sitting at with my daughter, Alex. The woman was my age, maybe a little older, and immediately after she asked if she could join us said, “So what classes are you taking?”

Now in most situations this would be a normal topic of conversation. Kids nowadays have so many extracurricular classes and activities — especially in my neighborhood where most of the kids from pre-school age on up take a lot of prep courses to get into good schools. I looked over at Alex and then returned my gaze to my newfound mom-companion.

“None right now, she’s not ready.”

The mom was shocked. I could see it all clearly in the expression on her face. It’s almost like I committed a mom-crime or something. I mean how could I not have my child enrolled in several different classes? What kind of mom was I? Maybe I should be written up for child neglect. After all, who in their right mind didn’t have their child going to classes yet?

I reached over to tug at Alex’s foot. “Nope, no classes.” Alex let out a little cry. We were getting close to naptime. I gently rocked the infant seat that she was reclining in, talked a little bit more and then after a few minutes bid the mom goodbye and took my 8 month old back to the car.

Nope, no classes.

For the longest time I was the only mom I knew who didn’t go to classes with my baby. Most of the moms had their kids doing everything from the free parenting classes at our local community college to baby swim lessons. “Music Together”, Mommy and Me, Gymboree, and baby signing classes all were names tossed around when our kids hit the 4 month mark. My fellow mom friends were always talking about trying something new, packing their barely cognizant little ones off to classes that cost more per 20 minute session than the 90 minute yoga classes I used to take at an upscale studio. The small talk at the taco stand wasn’t something out of the ordinary. Everyone, it seems, takes it as normal that kids who can’t even crawl should have something ‘educational’ to occupy their time.

Forget staring at the ceiling fan, playing with stacking blocks, or raiding the Tupperware drawer. The best way to ‘raise’ a kid is to start them off right – by putting them into a structured environment where they can ‘learn’ something. News flash – kids are learning each and every second of the day, and here’s the rub – one of the best ways they can learn is if we get out of their way.

Childhood used to be all about fun. Now it’s about who is doing what where.

Don’t get me wrong. I did eventually sign Alex up for parenting class once she was about a year old when it no longer interfered with her nap schedule. She gets to play with a lot of cool toys – many of which are old standbys that have been around as long as I have – as well as interact with other kids. I get to hang out with other moms, kvetch and eat a donut now and again. There is a schedule but there’s no agenda for the kids. They have song time, story time, and free play. It’s a great deal. Especially since all this is… free.

Free non-structured playtime with toys and a few carbs once or twice a week should be good enough. But, for many of the moms in my class, they still have their kids signed up for even more things to do. Trying to organize playdates with these moms is also always an issue. “We have ‘x’ class that day” being a common refrain. Just recently at a birthday party one of the moms had to rush their kid off to his class, just popping in to say a quick “Hi. Happy Birthday!” Poor kid missed having ice cream cake just so he could go to…school.

I’m all for kids playing together and learning how to be social. Playdates, which I shunned pre-momhood, I have learned to accept as a necessity — getting out of the house a must for my sanity. But I just can’t understand why anyone in their right mind would shell out big bucks to put their kids in classes. My best memories of childhood are of running around, playing in the park, getting dirty, and making up games with other kids. Parents were actually kind of boring. They never could come up with good storylines or understand how a box could become a castle with just a few blankets and a broom.

In many ways I feel like I’m a mom from another planet. I could really care less if my child learns about music theory by the time she’s 2. It seems enough that she sings her ABCs on her own while beating some pots and pans on the floor. She’s experimenting with rhythm and melody in her own unique way. Why would I pay $100 per month to have a ‘childhood development expert’ teach something that my child already is doing intuitively?

So these days when I say I have no class, it takes on a whole new meaning.


7 Responses to “Class Matters”

  1. Alexis January 3, 2010 at 6:48 am #

    It seems strange (and unnecessary) that enrolling infants in classes has become so commonplace. The parents that I know aren’t likely to enroll their kids (and by this, I mean babies) in daycare, much less something structured and educational. Although I must admit that the “free” aspect does sound appealing.

    I don’t remember being an infant. Perhaps I did not receive the proper education to remember effectively. 🙂

  2. Sara R. January 4, 2010 at 9:38 pm #

    We did take Viv to Music Together classes for about a year, before Rich got laid off last year. She loved the music and the singing, but for us, it was more of an organized opportunity to do something kid-focused together. With both of us working outside the home, we liked the chance to have 1 hour a week that a) forced us to get out of the house at a reasonable time on a Saturday morning, and b) was focused on doing fun things together.

    When Rich got laid off, we had to pull back, so we’ve focused on less expensive options–the zoo, the park, the drive-in movies. But I don’t regret the opportunity to take that music class and do something fun together.

  3. geckogrrl January 5, 2010 at 9:57 pm #

    Free is always good when you have a kid! (And it’s a parenting class, so it’s more about getting together and talking about our kids while they run around with each other which is also good!)

    Sara, I know a few working parents who did classes as a way to be together with their kids. It is a good thing to do something so fun with them when you have so little time during the week. Most of the moms I know, though, are staying at home and have their kids enrolled in at least one class per weekday (as opposed to day care or preschool…). Just seems strange to me to structure so much before the kids are 2…

    So glad that you and Rich had the chance to bond with little Viv!

  4. Allison January 6, 2010 at 4:49 am #

    Great post! I totally agree with you. I am scared for when Evan goes to school with all these kids who spent a lot of time in classes and don’t know how to entertain themselves or deal with unstructured time.

  5. Gazelle January 12, 2010 at 7:44 am #

    Well put.

  6. Nora January 12, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    I recall having a similar experience once. We didn’t have ours in a ton of classes. (Although they got social interaction through playdates and Sunday school.) I think there is a lot of insecurity in being a mom and many fill that void with classes.

  7. jchinique February 16, 2010 at 10:24 pm #

    I think my oldest was maybe 18 months when we tried gymboree, and even younger when we went to some community sponsored mommy-n-me type gatherings (those were free). As a not so social type, I get why some people will pay to get out of the house with their kids, especially if you don’t have a huge support net.
    But it’s the overscheduling of kids that gets to me (and the complaining about it!). Poor things turn into type A’s before they’re nine. Give me a little unstructured play anyday, I’m always amazed watching where it leads.

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