So, to sum up, we decided to enroll Margaret in ballet again after we'd tried in the 2010-2011 school year and given up after a few months when her participation dropped for spotty to zero when the class size increased from 4 to 12 girls. (I think I've mentioned in passing before that when two introverts breed you seem to get more introverts. Shocking.) She'd been practicing what little she learned at home long after we stopped taking her to class, so she clearly wanted to do it, and we figured that with her enrolled in preschool she might find the group setting a little less upsetting.
The Boston Ballet school does things on a September 1 cut-off date, just the same way the regular schools do around here. What class you are in depends on your age on September 1st. I'd never have considered holding Margaret back academically because of her summer birthday, but the difference between kids who are only just 2 and kids who are nearly 3 is a gaping chasm, and it's a pretty telling difference between kids who are only just 3 and kids who are nearly 4 as well. I'd signed Margaret up for the age appropriate class partly out of wishful thinking but mostly because that's all the website would let me do. Unfortunately the big difference between the class for kids who are 2 in September and kids who are 3 in September is that the former is a class where a parent goes in with the child and the latter is a class where parents must stay outside. Margaret spent her entire first class crying in a corner, and it was pretty obvious that she just did not want to be in a class with strangers by herself. Sure, she may have handled preschool well, but it was a very different atmosphere. We transferred Margaret to the class for two year olds.
Margaret did OK in younger class, at least for a while, though getting her to participate always felt like a bit of a struggle. She really wanted my attention all to herself for the entire class, she needed to be warm enough (the studio was always cold), and she needed time to calm down between the car ride and the class. We stuck with it, and physically she was more than capable of doing it all, when she felt like it. After a while the teacher really wanted her to move back up to the class for three year olds, but when we talked to Margaret about being in class without Mommy or Daddy she was dead set against it. The turning point came at the one class I missed.
I think I missed the class because it was the morning after my amnio, though I don't remember for sure. All I remember for sure is that Warren offered to take Margaret in on his own that once and I gratefully accepted. I also remember that it was at the height of Margaret's thermonuclear tantrum phase. I wasn't there to see it, but Warren's account afterwards was that Margaret through a massive tantrum in the parking lot because Warren refused to park highly illegally in the non-space that Margaret demanded that he park in. (The nerve of that guy.) By the time Warren got her calmed down enough to do ballet her class was nearly over. As it happens the class for three year olds comes right after the class for two year olds, and the same teacher teaches both classes, so Warren asked if she could go to the other class. I gather that while it didn't exactly go well, it was enough of a non-disaster that the teacher was willing to try having Margaret attend the three year olds class again the next week.
If you've been paying attention you will note that the class for three year olds occurs after (45 minutes after, to be precise) the class for two year olds. We're a fairly night shifted family, and Margaret has inherited her father's trait of not being at her best just after she wakes up. This makes having an extra 45 minutes before you have to leave the house in the morning a huge incentive. I will say that I also suspect Margaret was a bit bored with the material on offer in the two year olds class, but to be honest the extra 45 minutes at least as much of a motivator. The next week week we attended the later class. It did not go well. Margaret spent more time running around than following along. Ditto the following week, and I pulled her out several times to tell her she had to listen to the teacher, do what the teacher said, and not run around. I talked the the teacher after that class, and the upshot was that if there wasn't a big improvement next week Margaret would not be welcome back.
Given that I hadn't been happy with Margaret's behavior in the younger class, not to mention the time thing, I didn't think putting her back in the younger class was the solution. I talked to Margaret a lot over that next week about what I expected of her in ballet class and the fact that Miss Laurel would not let her come back if she didn't do these things. All sorts of parenting gurus these days will tell you that the threat of delayed consequences will not work on kids this age. This would be the reason I don't tend to read parenting books. The next week Margaret was so much better in class, it was like watching a completely different child. She wasn't perfect, but her behavior was just about par for the class. Miss Laurel was full of praise for her at the end of the class too, clearly amazed at the the transformation.
Margaret spent the rest of the year in the three year olds class. Often I felt that it was a little unfair because she was the youngest in the class, and she clearly struggled to stay attentive during class. Physically I think the class was about right for her, though while she was above average in some things she clearly had issues with others. In the fall we intend to enroll her in the next class up, and we'll enroll Duncan in the age appropriate class for him, but with a winter birthday he won't have the youngest-in-the-class issues to worry about.
The whole experience makes me think more about my preconceptions about holding kids back. I used to think I'd never do it, but now I'm not so sure. Of course I was mostly thinking about school, and while the difference between a kid who has just turned five and a kid who is nearly six is still a pretty big difference, it isn't quite the same as at two or three. I thought I'd never hold my kids back academically even if they had a summer birthday, but now I've seen that even a bright kid can struggle if they are the youngest in the class. I still don't think I'd have Margaret defer starting Kindergarten because of her June birthday, but I do worry about it for the little boy I'm carrying now. My due date is August 30th. If the kid comes a week or less before his due date the way his two older siblings did then he will absolutely be the youngest in his class if I don't hold him back, and it's supposed to be more of an issue for boys. If he comes a few days late I don't have to worry about it. I know I'll have the option to hold him back if he's born in August, but still, I find myself hoping for once that I go a few days past my due date so that I don't have to angst about whether to hold him back or not.
On a less angsty note, I'm pretty happy with the Boston Ballet School's Children's Program. It doesn't cost any more than other dance studios in the area that teach this age group, and the instruction is pretty good. Personally I'd like them to be more demanding of the kids and focus more on technique, but I realize that's a seriously minority viewpoint even for parents self-selecting the BBS for their kid's dance instruction. It's also great that the little end of year presentation doesn't cost the parents anything extra and only three class sessions were spent preparing the kids for it.